A story aimed directly at your heart, Personal Effects brings with it all of the ambivalent emotions that one encounters over the unexpected loss of a loved one. That’s a good thing in this case, too — since that’s what the movie is about to begin with.
After learning about the brutal rape and murder of his twin sister, 24-year-old wrestler Walter (Ashton Kutcher) leaves Iowa and heads back to his hometown in the city to be with his mother (Kathy Bates) and young niece. He has also returned to see the murder trial of his departed sister’s alleged killer through — intent on seeing the twisted soul behind the crime get his just desserts. While attending a group therapy class (for families of murder victims) with his mother, Walter sorta-kinda makes the acquaintance of Linda (Michelle Pfeiffer), a widowed mother of an angry deaf-mute teen named Clay (Spencer Hudson).
While he is too involved in a world of the dead at times, Walter begins to show some concern over Linda’s troubled son. With Walter's help, Clay is able to work out some of the built-up frustration from losing his father in a violent crime by joining the wrestling team (this is one of the few times I’ve seen some sports action in a movie that didn’t bore me to tears). Walter shows even more interest in Linda herself, sparking the raging fire of romance in the process (yes, we have hot MILF sex, boys and girls — although Ashton shows more skin than Michelle, FYI) — a romance that may not be entirely feasible as both parties are damaged people to begin with.
As you may have probably guessed already, Personal Effects really isn’t the kind of film that one would market as "The Feel Good Film Of The Year." Instead, writer/director David Hollander has brought us a very touching motion picture based on Rick Moody’s story “Mansion on the Hill” and has included two very powerful actresses in it. Both Bates (in a supporting role) and Pfeiffer hand in some grand performances, and the latter actress has the part nailed down firmly.
Hell, even that Ashton Kutcher guy is good here. Actually, I kid the lad: Kutcher is pretty good most of the time, and in Personal Effects, he plays the part of the large lumbering emotionally stunted dumb guy to a T (and while some might argue that he isn’t acting and is only being himself, I disagree: I distinctly saw a feeling or two there). Newbie Spencer Hudson (who looks like a chubbier version of Lance Bass) delivers an entirely believable first-time acting effort as Pfeiffer’s angry deaf son Clay (the actor is deaf in real life — so that’s not just acting kids, it’s real).
Personal Effects hits DVD and Blu-ray from indie label Screen Media Films. The movie has a very blue-grey motif to it which is due to: a) it being a very moody sort of film and b) being shot in Vancouver (ta-dum). The DVD’s transfer of the film is very good, presenting the movie in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) ratio with a modest (yet not entirely effective) 5.1 English Dolby Digital soundtrack. The only subtitle option here is Spanish.
The only specific bonus material on Personal Effects is a nineteen-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Why is it that when I want an audio commentary, it’s nowhere to be found? WHY?! A couple of trailers for other Screen Media releases are also housed on the disc.
Personal Effects never found its way to American theaters (and understandably so — there isn’t a single butterfly effect or catwoman in the whole thing) and the Direct-to-Video vibe you may get from looking at it on the shelf should not be taken seriously (it‘s actually a Canadian-made feature — which is pretty much the same thing for the most part). In fact, Personal Effects succeeded in bringing a tear or two to my eyes: it’s a movie with a heart (which is becoming a bit of a rarity nowadays). Anyone who has ever lost a loved one — whether it be from natural causes, suicide, or crime — will be able to relate to the characters in this film without sinking into a state of depression afterward (which is also something of a rarity with movies these days). Plus, you get to see Ashton Kutcher in a chicken suit. That counts for something, right?