“Louder Than Words” is inspired by the true story of a young girl who dies a random and tragic death, and how her family copes with the loss by building a revolutionary children’s hospital. This is poignant subject matter, and while this film reaches almost Hallmark-movie level on the saccharine front, and suffers from some meandering direction, it is worth watching, if only to develop a whole new fear for the many ways in which sleeping outdoors can kill you.
The film opens with a dazzlingly sunny shot of Maria Fareri, the doomed heroine, riding her bike and promising the audience in a cloying voiceover that this will not be a sad story. One wonders if she saw the same trailers that we did. Subsequent scenes introduce the audience to the rest of the family, three older siblings (triplets from a previous relationship), her Zen-like mother Brenda, played by Hope Davis, and her commercial developer father John, played by David Duchovny. Maria is the self-titled glue that holds her moderately dysfunctional family together. With the older siblings away at college, and Brenda relegated to the background, Maria spends much of her time with her father, shopping, fishing and camping.
It is one of these camping trips that is the cause of Maria’s fatal illness. Complaining of a migraine and shoulder pain, Maria is taken to the hospital and treated for a tick bite. By the time the older siblings arrive at the hospital, John and Brenda have spent several (the film isn’t too clear how many) restless nights sleeping on benches in the hospital hallways, and the doctors have determined that Maria is suffering from the bite of a rabid bat. There is no cure.
From here the film seems to lose its way a little. Maria’s omniscient voiceover, which has been fairly consistent up to this point, promptly ceases once the family ends her life support. I kept waiting for the voiceover to return, as her chirpy comments are by far the most cheerful part of the movie. But they never did, and focus seems to switch to the coping mechanisms of John and Brenda. David Duchovny is a good actor, but a welling font of emotion he is not. His discovery of Maria’s journal, detailing how she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children, is a turning point for him, as he decides that he will build a children’s hospital in her memory, an inclusive treatment center where parents won’t have to sleep on hard benches and children can participate in daily activities. Then he goes driving a lot, walks through the woods a lot, and generally does a lot of other things silently and in a very stoic manner. There were so many shots of his eyes in the car rear view mirror that it started to feel like an X-Files throwback.
The rest of the movie kind of details the process of fundraising, getting permits, and ultimately building the hospital. John is supposed to have made quite a few enemies in the commercial development trade, (mainly environmentalists), which in theory makes the task of building the children’s hospital quite monumental. The main issue here is that while the movie states the difficulty of the mission at hand, it never shows the actual difficulties, relying instead on light exposition and a few scenes of a networking social. One would think that with as wealthy as the local community seems to be, and as privileged as the Fareri characters certainly are, throwing a few yard sales and shaking a few more hands would have solved the fundraising problem right away.
Ultimately, the hospital is built, as it was in real life, in 2004. The hospital itself is a leading scion of pediatric care, with a patient-centered ideology that surely would fit the vision of Maria Fareri. As for the movie, while it certainly won’t waste two hours, it likely won’t stand the same test of time as the children’s center.