“Return”: A Female National Guard Reservist Back from War

The new film Return is about Kelli (Linda Cardellini), a National Guard reservist, who’s served in an overseas war. She returns from war to her husband (Michael Shannon) and two daughters, her job, and her friends, and has difficulty adjusting.

It’s not that Kelli was in the trenches or shooting at people. Mostly she worked with supplies. But she did experience war. She did experience trauma.

And it’s surely a big benefit to this female-centric indie that the writer-director, Liza Johnson, is also a woman. Right, (male) Rex Reed? “A bargain-budget bore,” he calls it. And later adds:

…And what, many ask, are responsible wives and mothers doing deserting their families and throwing their lives in harm’s way to begin with? Debating that touchy subject is a double-edged sword that isn’t about to be resolved in a movie as slow and one-dimensional as Return.

How often does anyone ask the same thing about “responsible husbands and fathers” who go off to war?

Maybe finding a critic who also happens to be a woman would help. How about female critic Dana Stevens, Slate:

Unlike the male soldiers in recent returning-veteran movies (Toby Maguire in Brothers, Ryan Philippe in Stop-Loss), Kelli rarely if ever freaks out on an operatic, mayhem-inducing scale. Her screw-ups are more incremental: She quits her job at a factory in a moment of boredom and frustration (‘this is bullshit!’), or forgets which is her day to pick up her daughter after school. But Johnson is ruthless at showing how those small mistakes can quickly reduce an ordered life to chaos. Driving alone one night after drinking at a friend’s house, Kelli gets a DUI and a must attend a state-mandated AA meeting (where her protests that alcohol ranks low on her list of problems ring true)…

…Johnson’s film remains quiet and precise in its portrait of a woman struggling to keep it together and almost, almost managing…Kelli is no noble martyred war hero but a troubled woman who can be self-pitying, ungrateful, and infuriatingly passive. But even when we don’t like Kelli, we can’t help loving her.

Thank you, Dana—something about your review makes me think you’re more in sync with this particular subject matter.

And what, you may ask, about Kelli’s husband? It turns out that he was able to avail himself not only of a spousal support group while she was away but also an extramarital affair—one that’s not ending just because Kelli’s come home.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “You admire these characters for their considerable resilience while understanding that even the best-intentioned people can break under the stress.”

Cue the Return trailer:

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