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Joseph Greco
Joe Pantoliano as John Marino
Julie Upton as Aunt Joanne
Barbara Sloan as Dawns Mother
Griffin Miner as Young Chris
Ronald McCullen as Construction Worker
Antony Del Rio as Gregg (as Anthony Del Rio)
Harriet Oser as Mrs. Greer
Bill Erfurth as Officer Savage
Devon Gearhart as Chris Marino
Marcia Gay Harden as Mary Marino
Storyline: A woman's schizophrenia affects her relationships with her husband and son.
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Coping with Madness
CANVAS is an autobiographical story by writer/director Joseph Greco and knowing that fact helps to forgive some of the weaknesses of the film. The story - how a family copes with the presence of paranoid schizophrenia and survives - comes from the heart and is as frank a film about the subject of mental illness as any out there. And for all the inherent tendencies to play it as a soap opera, the overriding effect is one of sharing lives challenged by the presence of a crushing disease.

Mary Marino (Marcia Gay Harden) has been afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia for nearly two years and her disease has affected her marriage to her working husband John (Joe Pantoliano in his best role to date) and her eleven year old son Chris (Devon Gearhart): John misses work to care for Mary and still pay for her mounting hospitalization and medical bills and Chris suffers abuse form his mocking school friends, frequently having to explain away his mother's erratic behavior. Mary paints (therapy) the same scene repeatedly, hears voices, and finally refuses to stay on her meds, a fact that results in her long-term hospitalization in a Psychiatric Hospital. John and Chris continue to love Mary despite the radical changes in their lives and each finds a means of coping: John goes on sick leave to build a sailboat for his wife and son in his backyard (he and Mary met and fell in love on a sailboat), and Chris takes up one of Mary's hobbies - sewing patches on shirts - and finds an audience and acceptance and income at his school. How the father and son survive and conquer their challenge presented by the mental illness of Mary serves to provide the ending to this story.

Each of the actors is excellent, especially Pantoliano. Harden is a solid actress but the script fails to capture the essence of her response to her disease. The film feels disjointed and inconsistent and has holes of undeveloped subplots and lines of thought that keep the movie grounded. But knowing that the story is true encourages the viewer to forgive the flaws and appreciate the tough subject matter that should help every viewer to better understand the effect of mental illness on a family. Grady Harp
Superb film that brings humanity to families that suffer from Schizophrenia
Whereas "A Beautiful Mind" was a thoughtful, consciousness-raising, award winning film concerning Schizophrenia, this film is even better. Marcia Gay Harden's performance is right on the money showing the terror of this illness and the human being who exists right along with it. Young Devon Gearhart and Joe Pantoliano as the son and father in the family, accurately depict the agonizing impact on the family, in an understated, never sappy way. The film accurately depicts the course of the illness, hope followed by dashed hopes, followed by renewed hopes. This is a chronic, relapsing illness that has to be fought every day. SPOILER ALERT FOR WHAT FOLLOWS! Even the last scene which shows the triumphant reunion of the family, shows the family returning to the hospital where the mother is still a patient. She is making progress, but still has a long way to go. The film stays honest to the end.
A Near Perfect Film
Having been a movie buff for nearly 60 of my 69 years, it is the rare film which can dent my favorite 5 or 10 of all time. "Canvas" has done that, and it may be my best of all. This is a near perfect film. The story, based on the writer and director's recollections of his childhood growing up with a mother who had paranoid schizophrenia, concerns a family coming to terms with what is generally a lifelong condition that is never completely cured. The film itself is nothing like a disease of the week TV movie, but rather a very entertaining, enlightening, and sensitive portrayal of how a husband and son must cope when Mom is mentally ill, in denial at first, and later in an institution. Marcia Gay Harden gives an amazing performance as the wife and mother of Devon Gearhart, an 11 year old just beginning middle school. He too is an incredibly gifted actor, able to express all emotions so realistically, you forget it's not really happening. Unfortunately, to date, he has generally had small parts in other films except "Dog Days of Summer", where he again does a great job, in a less satisfying movie that never got wide release but can be seen on DVD. And Joe Pantoliano has never been better as the husband and father who is trying to keep his family together and make a living. Sounds grim, but Joseph Greco, who spent 10+ years on the script, adds interesting side characters like Pantolianos boss and son, and Devon's school friends and tormentors, as well as some side stories that add humor and dimension to the story. The directors commentary on the DVD is very informative, adding much insight after the viewer has seen the movie by itself. The movie ends on a hopeful note, not as happy as it first seems, but very honest. The music is beautiful, both instrumental accompaniment and vocal songs. Even the title "Canvas" is very clever as the movie plays out, having multiple meanings. I have watched this film 27 times with 24 different people or groups, including a professional help group I belong to, and everyone was amazed at how wonderful this little known film is. Not recommended if "Transformers" is your idea of a great movie, but if you are a serious student of fine cinema, this is a must see.
Award winning film with heartbreak, hope and humor about a family coping with mental illness.
Excellent portrayal of a person with a mental illness and the challenges personally, and of the family in learning how to understand and adjust to their reality. It deals with the anger, the fears,the shame, the misunderstandings,and the hope. It's a very heartwarming story with drama and laughter, education, and compassion. A very entertaining film that provides real enlightenment, hope, acceptance and joy!! And in the end provides a "feel Good" feeling! You'll be glad to have seen it when you leave the theater!! and will recommend it to your friends!Well deserving of Awards. Not a Documentary but definitely based on truth!
Superb film and acting
I saw the film at the Sarasota Film Festival. At it's completion, the entire audience gave the film a standing ovation - truly a rare occurrence. I felt the performances by Joe Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden were inspired, the film provided a compassionate perspective on schizophrenia and the story was compelling. The subject is challenging to begin with, but this story not only highlighted a serious, often unspoken disease, it bought it out in a light that will prove inspirational for those who have been exposed to this life challenge. I was amazed at the realistic performance by young actor Devon Gearhart. Congratulations to Joe Greco - definitely a young filmmaker to watch!
Required Viewing - A Film for the Social Good
Canvas, based on the life of first-time writer-director Joseph Greco, is a film so powerful it should be required viewing in schools and universities around the world. Rarely has the issue of mental illness been so realistically tackled on the screen. The subject was touched upon in such recent classics as Girl, Interrupted and A Beautiful Mind, but Canvas takes a stance of advocacy that is so startlingly refreshing that it will bring shivers up your spine.

Marcia Gay Harden plays mother and wife Mary Marino, afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia. Her husband John, played brilliantly by veteran Joe Pantoliano, is the glue that keeps the family from crumbling during Mary's frequent breakdowns and hospitalizations. Caught in the middle of it all is young Chris Marino, played by the adorably talented Devon Gearhart. The 11 year-old boy is firsthand witness to the ultimate frustration inflicted on a family by mental illness. Confused yet resilient, Chris takes up the unusual hobby his mother handed down to him -- sewing. After some practice, he is the talk of the school for creating unique garments (fetching $40 per shirt, to boot). A Gucci book, given as a birthday gift from a friend, cemented his interest in the craft.

Meanwhile, during her many hospitalizations, John feverishly constructs a wooden sailboat for Mary. He takes an extended leave of absence from his day job to work on his project and is reported to the building inspector by a nosy neighbor. And as if having sewing as a hobby wasn't enough, young Chris is bullied for his mother's "craziness" as well as for his father's sailboat obsession. As confused as his life is, Chris carries himself with pride. He is a survivor.

The emotional core of this film is so profound that it is destined to change minds and lead to more mental health advocacy. Kudos to Joseph Greco for bringing this serious but still taboo issue to the forefront of cinema. He is a true champion of social good. And bravo to Marcia Gay Harden, Joe Pantoliano, and star on the horizon Devon Gearhart for their heartfelt performances.
Touching, sensitive, & accurate
Canvas is a touching sensitive film that accurately portrays how mental illness can affect the mentally ill person and that person's family. The main actors do a great job of playing their characters. The film depicts that there is hope for a better life for all involved, despite the traumas that might be incurred in reaching that point.

Hopefully, this film will raise awareness and knowledge of the mentally ill in the general public. Mental illness is a common, organically based disease that responds well to treatment, yet many people do not even seek treatment because of the terrible stigma associated with mental illness. That stigma is rooted largely in the public's ignorance of the causes, prevalence, symptoms, and treatment of mental illness
Underwheming except for Marcia and Devon
The inside "peek" this film allows into the mystery of schizophrenia is underwhelming. Marcia Gay Harden attempts to bring Mary Marino, suburban wife and mother, some authenticity. However, the film's focus is on young Chris and his seemingly disconnected father.

The script is more relevant to the young boy's few hurdles due to his mother's illness. The perfunctory scenes of disbelief, anger and frustration when his mother is manic looking for him on the school bus, or unexpectedly delivering her homemade birthday cake while he is amongst friends at the arcade or bowling alley, demonstrate the obligatory embarrassment and that's it.

Dad's compulsion to complete a homemade sailboat albeit one avenue that allows him to "sail away" from reality makes little sense to the overall structure of the film. Although, it is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

Young Devon Gearhart shoulders the entire production as middle-schooler Chris Marino. Considering he was about 12-years-old (via IMDb stats), he was excellent. Joe Pantoliano as the father is miscast. He phones-in a stale characterization. The brief moments the script allows him to shine are wasted. Some of his lack of ambition can be laid at the director/screenwriter's door.

4/10 only for Devon and Ms. Hardin's attempts to make this film worthwhile.
Insightful look at the impact of mental illness on the family
This debut feature film by writer-director Joseph Greco dramatizes the impact of mental illness on the family. Mary Marino (Marcia Gay Harden) suffered the onset of a schizophrenic disorder in her early 40s, a couple years before the film's story begins, and her illness has made life very difficult for her, her husband John (Joe Pantoliano), and their 10 year old son Chris (Devon Gearhart).

Ms. Harden is quite convincing. She gets the furtive, doubting look of a distrustful, paranoid patient. She has emotional displays that are by turns inappropriately silly, sad or enraged. She is capable of socially disruptive, even dangerous, behavior. She makes shadowy references to outside forces that may have wired the house and are spying on everyone. She worries obsessively about her son's safety. She hears voices that cause her acute psychic pain. She's ambivalent about treatment. A particularly disruptive episode, one that causes commotion in the neighborhood, brings the police and Mary's readmission to the state mental hospital for extended care. John and Chris must carry on without her, and they do.

What's special about this film is it's central focus on the impact Mary has on her family. John is a good but simple man who works with his hands, a foreman for a house building crew employed by a developer. He tries to do right by Mary and Chris, but his coping skills are limited and often sorely tested, and he can react blindly at times out of his frustration. The role of John, wonderfully managed by Pantoliano, is reminiscent of Peter Falk's character Nick, the frantic, bumbling yet obviously caring husband of a psychotic woman, in John Cassavetes' 1974 film, "A Woman Under the Influence."

It's good to see Pantoliano playing a sympathetic character for a change, not the usual nasty fellow we know from his Teddy in "Memento" or Ralphie Cifaretto in "The Sopranos." Ten year old Devon Gearhart is a delight. He not only has charm, but conveys a remarkably broad range of emotional responses – joy, wonder, embarrassment, anger, sadness – that seem entirely natural and authentic.

We see and feel Chris's extreme embarrassment when Mary rushes aboard a school bus to embrace him and reassure herself that he is safe. When Chris spends his birthday at an amusement park with friends, Mary arrives unannounced and uninvited with a birthday cake to crash the kids-only party. Chris takes abuse from his peers in the aftermath of such episodes: they taunt him about his crazy mother. He begins skipping classes as a result. Chris and John are both put to pain when Mary erupts in the waiting area of a restaurant, and on another occasion when she wildly dashes outdoors in a rainstorm and creates a flap.

There is a brief bedroom scene while Mary is home on pass from the hospital, when lovemaking is interrupted because Mary is frightened of her skin being exposed and must peek through the drapes to be sure no one outside is watching. It is subtly made clear that her preoccupations have stifled John's arousal, and we can imagine this has happened before. We also share times of nostalgic reminiscence and bereavement, when Chris or John pauses, tearfully, to recall happier times with Mary, before her illness, and mourns the loss of the wife and mother they once knew.

The ending is somewhat ambiguous. John and Chris have cemented a mutually supportive relationship, while Mary is away in the hospital, by building a sailboat together. When the boat is finished, and the fellows invite Mary to join them on its maiden voyage, she is still in the hospital and quite symptomatic, hearing voices and experiencing difficult mood swings. Mary musters enough insight to realize that if she accepts the invitation, her behavior could deteriorate and spoil the day for her loved ones. So she declines to go along.

The voyage is a huge success: we can feel and see the bonding that occurs between father and son. The next scene at first glance seems to show Mary with John and Chris aboard the boat, perhaps on another outing soon after the first. Instead, in an inspired sight gag, the boat is revealed to be resting atop a trailer being pulled around the hospital parking lot. Mary is obviously contented, relaxed, at peace. Her husband and son are close by and also happy. It is the picture of a normal family at play, and these final images conjure the impression that Mary has turned a positive corner on the road toward health.

The fact that the film has a happy, hopeful ending does not trouble me. It is perfectly plausible for a person suffering from schizophrenia to make significant strides toward regaining normal emotional experience and behavioral self control, with effective treatment. My concern is that viewers of "Canvas" who are uninformed about schizophrenia might leap to the conclusion that Mary has made great strides toward recovery in a very brief time, failing to consider that this may just be another transitory mood. Such viewers might also attribute her improvement to the loving, inclusive attitudes of her family, rather than to proper psychiatric treatment. (On first viewing I myself had such a take; I had to see the film a second time to gain critical perspective.)

Of course we know that good professional care and positive family support are not mutually exclusive influences for the better: they serve synergistically to aid recovery. The ambiguity at the end aside, "Canvas" offers a uniquely insightful, compassionate perspective about mental illness within the context of the family. It deepens our appreciation for families who must carry on their own lives while enduring heartaches and a great sense of loss when their afflicted loved ones undergo radical disruptions of their psychological integrity and capacity to return their love. My grades: 8/10 (B+) (Seen in 01/07).
A brave little film about the effects of schizophrenia on the entire family
This is a small little film that slipped in under the radar--the sort of film that probably never made it to your local theater and you've probably never heard of it. That's a real shame, as it's a wonderful film about a real and very serious problem--schizophrenia. Despite the seriousness of the problem (affecting about 1% of the public and indirectly affecting many others), very few films seriously deal with it. Well, here there is an amazingly realistic portrayal of a mother decompensating, but the real focus on the film is her family and their relationships with each other. In particular, her elementary-aged son, as he struggles to understand what's happening with Mom as well as eventually coming to terms with the reality that she's probably never going to be "normal" again. It was a brave decision not to give this film a clear or happy ending--as life with this illness rarely is like a movie.

Very insightful, heart-felt and real--this is a film I would like to use when I teach my psychology classes about the illness. If schizophrenia has affected someone you love, then this is a must-see. For others, I still recommend it, as you'll learn a lot and despite the tears, you'll also see some amazing acting and writing.

FYI--Joe Pantoliano not only starred in this film but he produced the film as well. Joseph Greco both wrote and directed it. Great job.
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