At no point in Matt Tauber's dour new drama The Architect would a mournful montage of characters staring soulfully into the distance to the tune of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" feel out of place. Everybody does indeed hurt in Tauber's talky, stagy adaptation of David Greig's play, but even in movies this solemn and humorless, characters need to do more than just writhe in second-rate ennui.
The Architect centers on a nuclear family that could headline a Smithsonian exhibition on contemporary suburban dysfunction: brother (Sebastian Stan) and sister (Hayden Panettiere) explore their burgeoning sexuality in dangerous, self-destructive ways while Mom (Isabella Rossellini) and Dad (Anthony LaPaglia) are entering a treacherous endgame stage in their dying, loveless marriage. Meanwhile, wealthy architect LaPaglia has his dormant conscience reawakened by the entreaties of a grief-stricken activist (Viola Davis) who wants his help in tearing down the dilapidated housing project he designed while still an idealistic young man.
The Architect plays like Crash in slow motion, with the humor and kinetic energy dialed all the way down in its overwrought depiction of lonely, tormented depressives trying to make meaningful connections across class and racial lines. Its talented but overmatched cast is burdened both by an oppressively funereal tone and the impossible demands of playing personifications of vague ideas instead of three-dimensional characters. The Architect wears its heavy social consciousness like an albatross, and Tauber's plodding, earnest direction does little to wean the material away from its stage roots. The filmmakers are so hung up on making an important statement about issues and themes that they've forgotten to make a film about plausible human beings.