Eric LaRue has its roots in Brett Neveu’s 2002 stage play but the film adaptation being timely and relevant speaks to the current climate.
I know what you’re thinking–Mass just premiered a few years ago in theaters. It’s an unfortunate side effect of school shootings still taking place. Or any mass shooting in general. Where Mass focuses on grieving parents meeting to discuss their sons, Eric LaRue focuses on the mother–Janice LaRue (Judy Greer)–of the shooter seeking to meet with the mothers of those he killed. It’s a meeting that is being arranged through one of the local Presbyterian pastors, Steve Calhan (Paul Sparks). That being said, the father–Ron LaRue (Alexander Skarsgård)– has become born-again and wants his motivational preacher (and probable evangelical) to arrange the meeting. The fact that both parents are meeting with different pastors shows their differences are growing since the shooting.
The other grieving mothers include Stephanie (Annie Parisse) and Jill (Kate Arrington). One of the other mothers, Laura Gates (Jennifer Engstrom), attends Bill Verne’s (Tracy Letts) church, Redeemer. She appears to be in a different position than the other two mothers. In any event, you can feel the tension in the room during the initial meeting. The meeting alone is not going to be enough for Janice. She has to build up the courage to finally visit Eric in prison. She and Pastor Calhan might have good intentions in setting up the meeting but visiting Eric may just be what gets her to reach a point where she can go forward.
Meanwhile, one of the film’s subplots deals with Ron and Lisa Graff (Alison Pill). There is a lot of sexual tension between the two of them, whether it’s intentional or not. Anyway, they meet as a result of going to Bill Verne’s church. For people attending Verne’s church, one would think they would not be tempted by adultery. Anyway, Ron insists on Janice doing the meeting at Redeemer. Janice, however, does not appear to want anything to do with Redeemer.
Here’s the thing about faith: it can help someone grieve but it does not have all the answers. You have to put in the work if you want to be able to move forward. Otherwise, you end up being stuck in a rut and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Some parents are able to move forward by going into activism. You know who they are because they’re the ones that are on TV almost immediately in the aftermath of another school shooting. It’s something that we’re seeing far too often these days.
Aside from Judy Greer’s astonishing performance, the thing about the drama that impresses me the most about Michael Shannon’s directorial debut is that you would not believe that it’s based on a stage play! Brett Neveu opens up his script so much that it doesn’t feel theatrical at all. Many adaptations usually still have some sort of theatrical feeling but this one doesn’t. One other thing to note is that Michael Shannon insisted on Neveu’s presence on set during filming.
The 2002 play–performed at A Red Orchid Theatre–is a direct response to the tragic Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Shannon opted to make this his directorial debut after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. While the production was initially going to film in Arkansas, they opted to change states in response to the anti-abortion laws. As a result, production moved to North Carolina.
Judy Greer delivers a career-best performance in Eric LaRue and shows that the actress can be more than just a comic performer in this affecting and emotional drama.
DIRECTOR: Michael Shannon
SCREENWRITER: Brett Neveu
CAST: Judy Greer, Paul Sparks, Alison Pill, Tracy Letts, Annie Parisse, and Alexander Skarsgård
Eric LaRue held its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight Narrative section. Grade: 4/5
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