The plot of Jonathan Scott Chinn's directorial debut The Widowers is straightforward enough: Jake (Richard Lovejoy) is reeling from the recent passing of his wife, and his best friend signs them up for an alternative therapy group hidden deep in the Catskills. Once there, Jake is introduced to a compulsive and insensitive hostess, as well as a group of fellow grieving widowers hoping to better themselves.
When we are introduced to Jake he’s nearly catatonic, presumably due to immense grief. We don’t know much about him other than the plot details: he’s grieving, he needs help. We are encouraged to believe that this journey will in some way pull him out of his catatonia. This is the first of many problems in Richard Lovejoy’s screenplay. Coping with grief requires that a person have the freedom to be aloof and asocial to process the reality of loss. These characters enlist on their own volition, and so the idea that any sort of live-in group therapy is the boilerplate antidote for suffering is problematic.
Still though, an audience wouldn’t bat an eye at the idea of a grief-retreat if the people involved were pitiable and redeemable, and if any of it seemed at all like it was designed to help the patients who so desperately need it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Lovejoy’s characters feel almost deliberately inhuman, which is only made clearer by the blatant lack of resolution by the film’s conclusion. Jake is no better off after this experience, except for the fact that he rightfully won’t listen to any of his best friend’s ideas in the future. In fact, none of the participants of this designed-to-be-quirky grieving couple’s retreat are better off after living this experience. The token pothead is still being a token pothead. The token asshole is still being a token asshole.
These characters talk like characters in movies instead of like people. So at the end of the film when it comes time to look for meaning, we’re left with the harsh cynical reality that nothing was ever supposed to happen to these people whom we never really cared about in the first place. Weirder still, is that for a film supposedly about grief, there’s very little impacting depiction of it. Characters cry, scream, and break things. And yet, not a single detail of any of these couples’ relationships is revealed. What was Jake’s marriage like? How did they fall in love? What would their lives have looked like had she not passed away? Better yet, why would anyone continue to stay in at this retreat? No one is demonstrating any progress, and no one is having any fun. What are we supposed to feel?
Ultimately, Lovejoy’s script feels like an early first draft, which is a shame because Chinn’s keen sense of direction is killer. He composes shots interestingly and intriguingly, and directs the eye nicely. The biggest disappointment is that we don’t care enough about Lovejoy’s characters to want to keep watching.