The quiet ordinariness of most of the film gives no distraction or respite from the searing pain of loss, regret at the irreversibility of time. Small, seemingly insignificant acts at some critical moment become pivot-points of lives - anyone who's been through anything even somewhat close to this film's events knows this. "Walk a mile in those shoes" as they say.
There are no glossy moments or artificially witty lightening lines or visuals to distract from the reality. This film shows how the middle-class in America (the getting-by middle-class, where things can turn on a dime and trade-off & sacrifice is a daily choice).
Regular lives - not bond-grinding poverty or its opposite - go through the rituals of hockey practice, band practice, teenage libido, frustration boiling over at petty obsessions from people unaware of the possibility that someone lives in tragic irreversible pain and regret.
What makes this film so powerful is that the central thread is barely perceptible at first - you guess that something troubles this man, but very likely your speculations are far, far off the reality. It slowly shows itself using muted retrospectives ('flashback' is too jarring a word); the pivotal event appears without any forewarning. One thought likely to occur when the viewer grasps the fullness of the event is "how is this man able to still face the day, communicate, function?".
The main character(s) anguish becomes more noticeable with time, to the point that even slightly empathetic viewers will likely question whether they need to re- calibrate their own perception of their ability to empathize.
Did I enjoy this film??? No - film can be more than feel-good eye/brain candy.
Will I watch it again? No - I don't need reminders about my own regrets, mistakes. I got a lot out of it - the empathy-calibration, context for my own experiences, and stellar performances from a few people.
I did re-assess my perceptions of empathy and my ability to empathize. Everything in the plot is more than plausible - the cinematography feels like it's filmed through the eyes of a normal, sane, rational and perceptive person. No artifice. People live in houses like those I've lived in, seen countless others live in. Actors didn't step out of Vogue or GQ. Very little true grubbiness is shown, but it's _not_ the scrubbed clean, crisp everything that many movies show. This feels exactly like what it is - a movie about ordinary middle- class/blue-collar living in 'normal' houses, streets.
This film won't be escapist for anyone not in the middle of far more difficult, horrific experiences - it's a window into a normal life that's been twisted and smashed by a small but pivotal omission - something tiny that many people have done without having to live with the consequences.
Watch it without preconceptions and see how it affects your perception of empathy, your ability to empathize.
It's not a film without hope, but the hope that does emerge as it winds down is realistic, muted and believable. Despite the obvious mistakes and failings of the main adult characters, it's plausible that most people would respect real-life people who could pick up, carry on, and try their darnedest to mend and be good people.