‘Weightless’ Review: A Look at Tough, Working-Class Lives

‘Weightless’ Review: A Look at Tough, Working-Class Lives

To watch “Weightless” is to worry for 93 minutes. Here, deeply damaged people are prone to exasperating decisions. Yet these characters are so strikingly realized that you can’t help but care for them. It’s a potent mixture of feelings, to be frustrated by someone’s actions and, at the same time, hope that he stays safe.

While working at a landfill in rural New York, Joel (Alessandro Nivola) receives a phone call saying that Will (Eli Haley), his 10-year-old son who he has never seen, has been abandoned by Joel’s former wife. Joel, who is struggling with mental illness, takes in Will, who has health problems of his own. Soon there are serious questions about Joel’s competence and Will’s well-being.

No one here, including Julianne Nicholson as Joel’s girlfriend, Janeece, speaks when a gesture or expression would serve better. Several long, wordless stretches arise during the film, all of them thoughtful. Jaron Albertin, directing his first feature, cultivates tension in small moments and doesn’t force the drama.

The script, by Albertin and the playwright Enda Walsh (whose screenplay for “Hunger,” with Steve McQueen, featured similar meaningful silences), captures the rough poetry of working-class days and nights. Nivola’s taciturn performance is mesmeric, while Haley delivers an affecting film debut. Both deftly embody lives that are often overlooked.

A somewhat stronger plot may have made “Weightless” more taut, and perhaps more commercial. But the search for honest emotions, rather than a quest for constant action, takes precedence in nearly every scene. That admirable choice leads to a quietly aching film.

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