Remove the interracial marriage and diversity of the cast and Things We Lost in the Fire wouldn’t have looked out of place as a women’s picture tearjerker from the studio era. It’s a full-blooded melodrama that alternates between forlorn, cloistered emotional spaces and facile, artificial operatic set pieces. Your mileage will vary, and even mine did, someone who is generally a fan of this kind of thing.
What’s so damn frustrating about Things We Lost in the Fire is how it wants to operate in both worlds, and ends up becoming some weird hybrid creature that’s generally good but more fascinating for its oddities and unintentional camp. I mean, this is a film about a widow and the junkie best friend forming a strange bond during their grief while deploying cringe lines and soapy moments that handicap the truth of any given situation. Here is a film where a cold turkey session ends with a kid handing someone a cookie.
None of this should work, not even remotely should it work, but Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro give the film more weight and intelligent performances then it probably deserves. Berry successfully proves that Monster’s Ball was no fluke, and her generally uneven performing style just needs a certain type of material to flourish. While del Toro has done this kind of material better, he still manages to make us feel empathy for his character and root for his success.
The film’s entire ethos boils down to “accept the good,” a New Age fortune cookie platitude that doesn’t mean much of anything in the end. Things We Lost in the Fire just wants to expunge your tears and work your empathetic impulses into a frenzied overdrive. This is basically a Lifetime movie with European arthouse garnishes, and sometimes that’s all you’re really in the mood for.