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Mix coming of age with mid-life crisis and voila! A movie is born. Two years ago Gillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) died from a foolhardy stunt on the family boat, but her husband David (Peter Gallagher) just can't let her go. As a result, they still visit frequently on moonlit nights beside a pounding surf.
Most people think David needs a life adjustment, the most vocal being his wife's sister Esther (Kathy Baker), who, with her husband Paul (Bruce Altman), has come to visit for the September long weekend--the anniversary of Gillian's birth and death. Conveniently, they invite Kevin (Wendy Crewson), a female work associate who is an obvious setup and what Esther hopes will be a quick fix for the unsuspecting David.
To keep the teens interested, David's daughter Rachel (Claire Danes) plays a prominent role as the supportive but wanting-her-own-life daughter. Despite her best efforts, she makes her father appear even more inept as a parent. Overly protective, Esther feels forced to seek custody of Rachel, and have the courts declare David unfit to parent.
This movie holds many truths, but there are also many false spots to watch out for. True: Kevin, the victim of a runaway husband, tells Esther to quit worrying about a man who loves his wife even when she's dead: "My husband left me while I was still alive." False: Teenagers need to drink at every social gathering, and it's no big deal. True: Even with a bad marriage, Paul doesn't give in when tempted by Rachel's lustful friend. False: On the beach, Rachel and her friend feel the size of their bikinis are inversely proportional to their popularity.
A final warning is language. Obscenities, although not frequent, are very strong in one scene. The greatest truth of this film is how much we can love someone, and how hard it can be to accept the loss of a spouse. Unfortunately, this movie forces us into the usual simplistic mindset that we just need to get over it. Ask anyone who has lived through this. It isn't that easy.
To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday is rated PG-13:
Cast: Peter Gallagher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Baker, Claire Danes