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Review: The Arbor

Clio Barnard tells Andrea Dunbar's cursed story
By GERALD PEARY  |  July 19, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars

Andrea Dunbar turned her smothering, abused, and abusive life in a West Yorkshire housing project into a series of raw autobiographical dramas, and, as a teen playwright in the '80s, she became a star in London with acclaimed productions of The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too — the latter an excellent film, as well. But Dunbar's celebrity didn't improve her personal life. Deeply alcoholic, she had three children by three separate men, and died in her favorite pub of a brain hemorrhage at age 28. Clio Barnard's The Arbor tells Dunbar's cursed story through footage of the late playwright, but also — in a weird, somehow-effective stretch of form — through actors lip-synching the words, captured on tape, of those who knew her, including her parents and three adult children. The only weakness in this captivating film: too much screen time given to the trials and travails of Dunbar's half-Pakistani daughter, Lorraine, a heroin addict still suffering from the disinterest of her late mum.

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