Writer-director-star Casey Affleck shows some real promise as a craftsman in this stark but compelling father-daughter drama.
When you think of films in which a parent and their child navigate the ruins of a post-apocalyptic society you think, inevitably, of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. That’s a comparison that Light of My Life earns and embraces, and it’s not a bad one. But it would also be slightly misrepresenting Casey Affleck’s parable of parenting, in which the notion of shepherding a child around and over life’s obstacles is given abstract shape in a post-plague world almost devoid of women and their influence.
Affleck, who also writes and directs, plays Dad — which is how he’s credited on IMDb. The tremendously talented Anna Pniowsky plays his daughter, Rag — short for Raggedy Ann. Together, they navigate a treacherous world of predatory men. Dad has chopped her hair short and dressed her androgynously; he refers to her as his “son” in company, as a precautionary measure, and the film’s at its weakest when those precautionary measures — and the consequences that transpire when they fail or aren’t abided by — overwhelm the parental relationship at the story’s heart.
The opening scene of Light of My Life might be its best — a slightly adjusted retelling of the Noah’s Ark parable fraught with parental awkwardness. These two have a captivating bond as father and daughter, clearly informed by Affleck’s real-life relationships with his children and Pniowsky’s instinctive talents as an actor. Affleck is good behind the camera but he’s better on the page, and that comes across in the film’s quiet and more languid moments.
For some, the similarities to The Road will feel like a detriment, and for others, the stop-start pacing across two hours will be a problem. But it’s difficult to watch Light of My Life and not recognize Affleck’s obvious talents as a filmmaker, even if some of his rougher tendencies need smoothing out a little. He takes a bit too long to get where he’s going, and once we get there it’s quite obvious it’s a place we’ve been before. But the journey is at times captivating, dotted with moments of real intimacy and emotion. You have to wonder what he might do next.