It takes time to process through grief after losing a loved one, but Five Nights in Maine wants to rush through it.
Within the first five minutes, Sherwin (David Oyewelo) has experienced an intense loss: his wife Fiona (Hani Furstenberg) has died in a car accident, and there was absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent it. His breakdown at this news feels like a punch in the gut. But his actions afterward tick all the boxes of “Sad Feelings”: he wears sweatpants, sleeps on the couch, doesn’t eat and refuses to deal with any of the funeral arrangements. A lesser actor would noticeably drift through these scenes, but Oyewelo makes you feel Sherwin’s anguish.
In an attempt to stir himself out of his depression, he reluctantly accepts an invitation from his dying mother-in-law Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) to visit. Fiona had done so just a few weeks prior, and came back in bad shape.
Suffering from cancer and losing her child have only made Lucinda more vicious and icy, though she’s occasionally kind and funny. Their sparring makes for the movies best scenes. Exposed to each other without their protective shields up, they blame each other for Fiona’s death, even though neither of them were with her when the accident happened.
It’s a similar question explored in Louder than Bombs. But where that movie drifted in all different directions, Five Nights in Maine draws a straight line to an inevitable conclusion.
After wounding each other deeply in their most brutal war of wars, Sherwin storms off into the night. There should be more after that, more time to deal with the fallout. But writer-director Maris Curran jumps ahead to a moment of catharsis the film hasn’t earned yet.
But it’s a testament to the powerful acting that this isn’t as big a deal. Oyewelo and Wiest are magnificent, elevating the material. And Curran is a great observer of small moments: Lucinda grabbing a fist of Fiona’s ashes, Sherwin holding onto a mug with Fiona’s lipstick stain. But the dialogue isn’t especially strong, and occasionally it feels like this would work much better as a play. If we had a few more nights in Maine, it could have truly earned its release.