Catherine Eaton (bottom) in The Sounding (Photo: Giant Pictures)
★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Catherine Eaton
STARS Teddy Sears, Catherine Eaton
The sound of silence is a constant in the life of Liv. Played by Catherine Eaton, she never utters a word, preferring to quietly spend each day creating art. Living off the Maine coast with her erudite grandfather Lionel (stage and screen star Harris Yulin), she only begins to speak once it’s clear that Lionel is fading fast and won’t be around much longer. Yet Liv doesn’t use her own words to talk; instead, she only speaks in snatches of dialogue lifted verbatim from the works of William Shakespeare.
Admittedly, a movie in which much of the dialogue consists of quotes from Shakespeare plays is preferable to a film in which much of the dialogue consists of quotes from Adam Sandler flicks. (Then again, I imagine there exists a contingent that would find more poetry in “Vanilla Ice banged Grandma? That’s fucking awesome!” than in “To be or not to be. That is the question.”) But The Sounding never gets past its central gimmick in any meaningful way. Eaton, who also co-wrote (with Bryan Delaney) and directed, has given herself a dream part — what serious thespian wouldn’t like to stand around sampling from the Bard buffet all day? — but little about this stagey film actually resonates.
The story’s conflict arrives alongside the character of Michael (Teddy Sears), a psychiatrist who’s been summoned to the island by Lionel in essence to look after Liv after he has shuffled off this mortal coil. Lionel has Michael promise not to take Liv off the island but instead allow her to live there peacefully. But once Lionel passes and the grieving Liv understandably begins to act erratically, Michael breaks his word and has her shipped off to a psychiatric hospital faster than she can say, “Et tu, Brute?”
The rest of the film, as everyone tries to determine whether Liv is crazy or not, is a succession of scenes in which various well-meaning but ultimately mean doctors just don’t understand this woman and the live-and-let-live philosophy she represents — these are frequently interrupted by more literary quips from Liv, enough that the movie ends up feeling like an episode of Jeopardy! in which one of the categories is “Shakespeare in Quotes” (“What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.” “What is King Lear?”)
The focus of The Sounding is so much on the plug-and-play nature of Liv’s utterances that it actually ends up revealing less rather than more about this central character. By the end, Liv is as inscrutable and as untouchable as she was at the beginning, and there’s the rub.
(The Sounding is now available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Fandango, and other streaming platforms.)