The representation of grief is a staple for the TV movie of the week format that plague our daytime schedules. It is often portrayed as being like having an illness that can be cured by the love of a good man/woman. Plus, there is always a happy ending. The Bachelors central theme is the effects of loss and the grieving process but told in a very different, more realistic way.
Bill (J.K. Simmons) is in a real hole. His wife died suddenly leaving him and his teenage son to try to come to terms with the sudden change. He is not bearing it well at all. He feels the best chance he has of normalising his life is a fresh start so he arranges for a high school teaching job in California, almost all the way across the country. Both father and son want to make a fresh start. As they get into the way of life in a different community they both meet interesting women who force their ideas to change. For the son this is a relatively smooth process but for Bill It is more than a struggle.
This isn’t a film just about grief although that plays the principal theme in the drama. The father is having more than just a hard time accepting his wife’s death. In counselling he reveals that from diagnosis to death was only Sixty six days. His grief is all encompassing He can be fine one minute and openly weeping the next. It gets to a stage where it is starting to physically affect him. It is brutal to see on screen as the performance is so strong. It is a nuanced take on a man in deep trouble. Everything about him appears to be quiet and calm but you only have to look at his eyes to see the problems he has.
The relationship between father and son is critical to the success of the drama. They feel very natural together on screen. The back and forth seems easy going with a nice dynamic between them. One moment where they are talking in their kitchen. The dad is standing in his underwear as it is late and he obviously enjoys his comfort. The son is completely unfazed and only comments when they get on to the subject of dating. You get the feeling that they have been through a hell of a lot since their loss but want to make it work.
The main performances are all superb. J.K. Simmons gives a restrained and very subtle performance as the deeply troubled Bill. Instead of histrionics he uses expressions and. Body language to convey a man who seems that he is struggling to keep going at times. The way he tries to appear stable while falling apart inside is sometimes difficult to watch and very effective. Wes (Josh Wiggins) is more of an open character. He wears his heart on his sleeve and tends to speak his mind. As with Simmons, it is not a large performance but is the perfect foil to the way the older actor tackles his role.
The sub plots, which concentrate on the burgeoning relationships, are no less subtle than the main thread of the film. Wes is set up as the study tutor for a disturbed girl in his class. Their arc from strangers to friends never seems forced. There are trials, faults and misunderstandings on both sides which feel natural and not there purely for plot reasons. Bill’s relationship is slightly unusual in that he is not looking for anything or anyone. All the impetus comes from caring (Julie Delphy). She is the one prepared to work for it as she has her own reasons for the need of companionship.
This is a film that tackles the subject of grief head on. It isn’t afraid to show, in great detail, just how it can affect someone and the consequences on their life and relationships.