The devastation of losing a child and finding a way out of that darkness is the theme that haunts Louder Than Words. For this reason I approached this film with some dread. It’s based on the true story of the Fareri family, who lost their 13-year-old daughter, Maria, to a rare case of rabies in 1995. After Maria’s death, her parents, John and Brenda, found inspiration in their daughter’s own words to build a state-of –the-art children’s hospital in Weschester, Connecticut.
The story has all the makings of a Hallmark made-for-TV movie. However, Louder Than Words is a simple, well-made drama that features strong performances by David Duchovny, Hope Davis and Timothy Hutton, as well as a breakthrough turn by youngster Olivia Steele-Falconer as Maria. Louder Than Words is not perfect- I would place some of the blame on budget limitations- but it’s emotional and compelling enough to deserve your interest. The choice by director Anthony Fabian and screenwriter Benjamin Chapin to make this story non-linear creates a unique device that helps soften the blow of the tragedy and allows Maria, speaking from the afterlife, to narrate the film.
The film opens with Maria introducing her family: John and Brenda (Duchovny and Davis) live a successful life in Weschester. They have four children: college-aged triplets Julie (Morgan Griffin), Michael (Ben Rosenfield) and Stephanie (Adelaide Kane), plus precocious 13-year-old Maria, who describes herself as the “glue” of the family.
While the triplets are off at college, Maria and John go on a father/daughter camping trip. That night, Maria is bit by what they all believe is a tick. She soon falls ill, complaining of headaches, fevers and pains in her arms and shoulders. Weeks go by and the symptoms don’t go away. Her doctors are at a loss, until it’s too late. As Maria’s body begins to shut down on her, the doctors realize that she has contracted rabies. Unfortunately, unless rabies is treated in time, the disease is fatal.
Throughout their ordeal of watching their baby girl suffer, John and Brenda must wait is what can only be described as the country’s worst hospital. Puke gray walls, overcrowding, no waiting rooms, cramped public restrooms with no privacy, parents forced to sleep in chairs outside the room in a narrow hallway, and a hospital staff more concerned with protocol than the comfort of their children patients. Later in the film, Hutton’s character compares this hospital to a prison; he’s not that far off.
After Maria’s death, the family nearly disintegrates. John, a man of few words, closes himself off from his family, Brenda’s obsessive compulsive tendencies take over, Julie buries herself in school work, Michael shuts down completely, and Stephanie literally drifts away from her loved ones. Desperate to hear his child’s voice, even if it’s in writing, John begins reading Maria’s journals. He comes across one entry that becomes seared in his brain. In it, Maria wishes for the health and well-being for all children.
Inspired by her words, John decides he’s going to do something about Maria’s wish. He will build a children’s hospital that will provide a warm, loving place for families to go in their time of need. John recruits his friend, Bruce Komiske (Hutton), to help raise money and cut through the red tape. Thus begins the journey to build the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.
What impressed me about Louder Than Words is that it didn’t shy away from depicting the negativity that swept through the family after Maria’s death. The family members walk around like open sores, ready to attack. The pain is well represented. I also appreciated the ambiguousness of the family’s healing. There isn’t a single moment when everything is suddenly okay. The bad feelings and bitterness are left in the air; forgiveness implied rather than spoken.
The DVD comes with a behind the scenes featurette that includes interviews with the real Fareri family. If you watch Louder Than Words, I suggest checking out this featurette first. It provides insight into the family, the tragedy and the cause. It serves as a good introduction to the movie and informs the characters and the story. The artwork for Louder Than Words gives the impression of one of those faith driven cheapies that end up in the huge bins at Wal-Mart. This movie is superior to those films. It will move you and inspire you with its humanity and love.