I had no preconceived ideas about this film going in, other than I had heard that Uma Thurman had given a good turn in a dramatic role, so I was able to sit back and let the film unfold.
What appears on the surface to be a story about teen angst and overcoming not only a tragedy, but the mistakes you make in high school, both told in well balanced flash-backs, The Life Before Her Eyes has a plot twist that I found provocative and did not see coming (unlike Shutter Island).
I found the script to be intellegent and well crafted and the photography to be sublime. The traumatic tragedy is handled very well, giving you just a hint of gore without wallowing in it. Each flashback to those scenes is just different enough to continue to rachet up the emotional impact. There are themes that continue to fold back into themselves, like the scenes involving rain and water (the photography where you view events from underwater, making what you see somewhat blurry and distorted is wonderful and subliminally telling).
I became emotionally invested in the two high shool girls, who are obviously BFF before the term was coined, and found Uma's reflections on those days poignant, as triggered by the 15th year anniversary of the tragic school event.
I knew a girl in high school who not only looked a bit like Evan Rachel Wood, but embraced the rebelious, maverick nature she portrayed, so her performance, while a bit uneven, resonated for me, and I found it ironic that her older, more stable self, portrayed by Uma Thurman, was frustrated by her own young rebelious daughter.
Unfortunately there are a few scenes that are overwrought and melodramatic, which are all the more out of place when viewed in context with the rest of the film, but for each questionable scene there are moments of brilliance, from the beautifully crafted visuals to the scenes with Uma, as an art teacher, discussing art as a window into the essence of life.
I thought that the film had made a misstep when, about 3/4 through, it showed a flashback to the parochial school which had just put crosses on its expansive lawn to protest the abortion clinic in town; again, a beautifully crafted scene of visual impact - but it left me wondering why, with all the emotional baggage, Uma would choose to enroll her own child there. Of course this and the repeated use of Rod Argent's old Zombies song are all revealed in the closing act.