Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton star in Fran Kranz's debut feature film, "Mass."

Review: Fran Kranz’s ‘Mass’ film tackles grief, mental health

Mass tackles the hard, important issues of parents’ grief and mental health.

Actor Fran Kranz makes his writing and directorial debut with his first feature film Mass, which debuted its world premiere on Saturday, Jan. 30 at Sundance Film Festival. 

Synopsis of feature film Mass

Imagine the most dreaded, tense, and emotionally draining interaction you could find yourself in and multiply it by 10. That is exactly what two sets of parents—Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail (Martha Plimpton)—are facing. Years after a tragedy caused by Richard and Linda’s son tore all their lives apart, Jay and Gail are finally ready to talk in an attempt to move forward.

About Fran Kranz

Fran Kranz is an American film, television, and Broadway actor. His notable films include The Cabin in the Woods, The Village, Training Day, and The Dark Tower. His feature film Mass is his directorial and screenwriting debut.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.

Read our review of Fran Kranz’s debut feature film Mass

Heartbreaking performances

Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton appear in Mass by Fran Kranz
Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton appear in Mass by Fran Kranz, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Martha Plimpton

Martha Plimpton stole the show. I’ve loved watching her perform since the first time I watched her in the Fox family comedy Raising Hope. When I discovered Mass on the Sundance programming this year, I knew I wanted to watch her act again. Her subtle facial expressions embodied a mother dreading the biggest meeting she didn’t want to attend but knew she had to. Plimpton’s anger and frustrations ached me as the viewer. My favorite line from Plimpton was when she unleashed the pain out on Linda and Richard: “Tell me what you remember, tell me about your son… Why do I want to know about your son? Because he killed mine.” That was my “oh fuck” moment.

In the Q&A segment after the screening, when asked about her process, Plimpton explained that “this was something different. This was asking us to go through a process in real time with one another… That was quite easy, in a strange way.”

Jason Isaacs

Jason Isaacs started out as the calm, supportive husband and as the film progressed, the anger his character felt finally began to unleash. I’ve only seen Isaacs perform as iconic villain Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, so it was refreshing to see him in this new, different role. The way he recounts the report of his son’s death caught my attention; the way his voice quivered and he began to cry. Isaacs was extraordinary. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Isaacs told them that the film has “nothing to do with school shootings. It’s about finding a way to talk to other people, and see them as human — which has never been more current.”

Ann Dowd 

Ann Dowd appears in Mass by Fran Kranz
Ann Dowd appears in Mass by Fran Kranz, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

As soon as Ann Dowd appeared on the screen, I thought to myself, “Hey, Aunt Lydia looks nicer this time around!” A little humor for those who have watched Dowd perform as the frightening Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale series. In Mass, Dowd shines as Linda, a warm mother filled with regret, who wishes to help Gail and Jay cope and understand what happened with her own son, the teen who started a school shooting.

In the Q&A segment after the screening, when asked about the experience with the script, a teary Dowd responded, I think the realization on everybody’s part was that this was going to be a profound experience… I spent a lot of time alone and thought about the loss of a child and held onto that grief and said, ‘This is what it’s like, and don’t run from it.'”

The tension could cut cheese

Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, and Breeda Wool appear in Mass by Fran Kranz
Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, and Breeda Wool appear in Mass by Fran Kranz, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

The actors captured the awkward tension so well. The plot is simple yet the story and emotions so complex. The ambiance started off with immense awkward tension that if it was personified as a knife, it could cut cheese. Kranz’s storytelling and the dialogue aches throughout the film.

Conclusion

The focus is on the story of the past and how our characters dug into that past to understand and to heal. Mass isn’t about finding a happy ending; it’s about finding a way to cope with the past. The powerfully impactful film may not be for everyone but it’s a pretty damn significant film to watch and learn to understand humanity and its flaws.

Read more of ChinLin’s articles.

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Featured image credit: 7 Eccles Street, Circa 1888, 5B Productions

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