We gave it an A-
Director Paul Brickman’s first effort since Risky Business is an exhilarating contradiction: a happy movie about depression. It’s the story of a newly widowed mother, Beth (Jessica Lange), and her two kids. With Dad, their cornerstone, suddenly gone, the three are no longer an emotionally coherent unit — they have to grow into different people to become a family again. The sorrow is always there under the surface, yet the movie is also lyrical and rapturously funny, with surprise temptations sprung on the characters like enchanted jokes.
Discovering she’s $63,000 in debt, Beth moves the family to nearby Baltimore and meets a preternaturally gentle musician (Arliss Howard) who tries to ease her out of her funk. Meanwhile, the kids go through time-honored coming-of-age rituals — little Matt (Charlie Korsmo, currently in Dick Tracy) falls in with a ”bad” kid at school, while the adolescent Chris (Chris O’Donnell) finds hormonal bliss in the arms of a spacey radiology technician (Joan Cusack, in a crack deadpan performance).
In his homegrown American way, Brickman believes in the director as mood spinner. Nothing in the film unfolds in quite the way you expect. That’s the key to Men Don’t Leave’s evanescent charm — it’s about a world alive with hidden possibilities.