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An Unwelcome Homecoming
When Anna's (Emily Browning) psychiatrist releases her from a sanitarium, where she has been recovering from an attempted suicide following her mother's tragic death, she is shocked that her father, Steven (David Strathairn), has become romantically involved with Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), her mother's former nurse. Feeling betrayed and frightened, she seeks solace from her older sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). But Alex is strangely distant at first. As Emily Browning puts it, "Anna suddenly feels lost. Ever since her father fell in love with Rachel, she doesn't know where she fits in with her family. Even her sister, Alex, feels a little hostile towards her. Worse, Rachel, who has taken over the house and seems determined to erase all memories of Anna and Alex's mother.”

Eventually, Alex confesses that she felt abandoned by Anna and was left alone to cope with Rachel. Says Arielle Kebbel, "Anna is trying to tell her how awful life was in the mental hospital, but Alex is saying that life at home was pretty terrible as well. It's interesting, because you can tell how happy Alex is to have Anna back, but she doesn't want to show it too much because she feels that she was deserted and left to deal with everything at home.”

"The fact that he's moved on so quickly from Mom devastates her,” adds Kebbel. "So she keeps telling herself, ‘I'm over it. I don't need Dad – or anyone else. I've already been hurt enough.'”

Anna and Alex reconnect in their dislike for dad's new girlfriend, and given Steven's poor parenting skills, they feel totally abandoned. "My intention is to be a good father to her now,” observes David Strathairn, "but my career remains my top priority. Before, family matters were attended to by my wife. Now she's gone and I'm plagued with regret and guilt for not having been as involved in my children's lives as I should have. So I'm trying to catch up, not only as a dad but as a friend, as a confidante, as somebody who can support Anna. It's difficult, because I don't really know my daughter. I have expectations of what a father-daughter relationship should be, but I'm really not prepared to handle it all.”

Another barrier is his new relationship, which blossomed not long after his wife's death. "I want to marry Rachel,” admits Strathairn. "I'm in love with her, because she brought me back from grief. But Anna can't see it that way because she's lost her mother and now this woman is trying to replace her. Anna is just not ready for that. On top of it, she's a teenager, a time in life that is already delicate and tricky.”

When Rachel tries to connect with Anna, the resentment turns to hate as Rachel tries to erase all traces of the family's past life. But, according to Elizabeth Banks, who plays Rachel, it isn't that clear-cut. "Rachel is very much in love with the idea of this family and of loving Steven,” explains Banks. "Rachel sees this as an opportunity at motherhood. She's been placed in this horrible position of being the classic stepmother, of having to stifle her happiness at being in love and having a family because Anna clearly thinks she's moving too fast. But from Rachel's perspective, all she wants is to help this family heal and be whole again. "Rachel's attraction to Steven comes from his gentleness,” Banks continues. "She sees him as a wounded soul, someone who needs to be taken care of. And he is very sexy. He, in turn, treats Rachel with kindness and respects her intelligence. Rachel is an equal in his eyes, and that's what she's been looking for her whole life.”

Every loving moment between Rachel and Steven makes Anna feel more threatened. "It's one of the major relationships in the film, but we don't really say that much to each other,” says Strathairn. "It's a pivotal relationship, yet most of it is conveyed with looks and touches, those in-between

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