SEX, DEATH AND BOWLING, campy family drama, rated R, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles Santa Fe native Ally Walker is an actress known for playing the title role on the 1990s NBC drama The Profiler, and more recently for the recurring character Agent June Stahl on Sons of Anarchy. Now she has written and directed Sex, Death and Bowling, a campy, borderline-magical-realist tearjerker set in a small Western mountain town, about a little boy whose father is dying of cancer. The movie is wildly earnest and inventive in its efforts to fully portray the psychology of a fractured family at a critical moment.
Eli McAllister (Joshua Rush) is a preternaturally intelligent, sensitive eleven-year-old who is on a quest to discover where people go when they die. Eli’s father, Rick (Bailey Chase), is a veteran of the Iraq War who is now in hospice. His mother, Glenn (Selma Blair), has stopped showering in favor of keeping a vigil at her husband’s bedside, where she becomes increasingly furious with the hospice nurse, Ana (Drea de Matteo), who keeps Rick sedated on morphine. Eli’s uncle, Sean (Adrian Grenier), who comes to town to see his brother, is a successful fashion designer who has been living in England. Eli’s grandfather, Dick (Daniel Hugh Kelly), has a very kind girlfriend, Evie (Melora Walters), who often looks after Eli. Dick is also the leader of a bowling team that is about to compete in an annual league tournament that they’ve bowled for a generation or more, and for which Eli keeps score. But their best bowlers — including Rick — are unable to compete this year. A rift between Sean and Dick reveals itself, as Dick doesn’t approve of Sean’s sexuality and, possibly more shameful for this family, Sean’s not a very good bowler.
All of the acting by the impressive cast is very good — especially Blair and Kelly — and all of the plots and ideas are intriguing, but Sex, Death
and Bowling suffers under the weight of too much story. There is so much going on that Eli’s reactions to his father’s mortality and Sean’s reckoning with his father’s decades-old discovery of his sexuality, in the end, come across as too pat and overly sentimental in a story that is already sentimental by nature. Eli can be a little too special and wonderful to be believed, yet it is strangely comforting to see how such a trusting little boy engages with so much grown-up sadness. — Jennifer Levin
Bedside manners: Adrian Grenier, Bailey Chase, and Joshua Rush