Monday, September 17, 2007


A once-hot model and actress (Tuesday Weld) has been institutionalized after suffering a breakdown; her story is told in flashbacks, more or less chronologically, though in disjointed fashion, punctuated with flash-forwards to her heavily sedated life in a sanitarium. After escaping small town life in Nevada and becoming a famous model, she is discovered by director Adam Rourke and cast in a small-budget film called "Angel Beach" (sort of like Easy Rider if it had been made by Andy Warhol) which becomes a surprise hit. She marries Rourke and has a child who is brain damaged and lives away from home. Her marriage starts to fall apart and she has a few one-night stands with other men, resulting in an abortion. Her best friend is Anthony Perkins, the producer of Rourke's movies and a closeted gay man married to Tammy Grimes, who is paid by Perkins' mother to stay married to him, for appearance's sake, even though he has no compunction about sharing his beach house with hot young tricks. Feeling adrift, Weld goes back to her hometown to find herself, but finds nothing. She makes a stab at reconciling with Rourke, who is in Las Vegas shooting his next movie, but that falls through as well. She hears the story of a man who went into the desert to talk to God and was found dead of a snake bite. In the last scene, she and Perkins, in a hotel room avoiding a night on the town with friends, discuss the abyss before he takes a handful of Seconals and dies in her lap, which apparently triggers Weld's breakdown.

This is based on a novel by Joan Didion, whose books I can never get through. Most critics disparage the movie by saying the novel is better (isn't that almost always the case?), but I found this to be quite intriguing. It is a product of its time, both in terms of plot and style, but if you can get past the surface, it doesn't feel all that dated. One critic has noted that this film, directed by Frank Perry, bears comparison to the work of David Lynch, an interesting comment, though not one I would take too far, partly because this film has a strong narrative thread, even though it takes a while to piece together the fragments. Even after I had figured out the chronology, there were still things that weren't clear, particularly about the Weld character, her background (did she have a history of fragility or are we supposed to think that Hollywood destroyed her?), and her career (did she make more than one movie?). There is lots of dialogue in the film but little communication, which is one reason why the characters remain vague. The editing style is a mix of 60's choppiness and long single takes. Weld is very good in a role that calls for someone who seems a little detached; she doesn't so much spin out of control as wind down. Perkins is excellent, giving a tic-free performance that is miles away from Norman Bates, even though both characters do have "mother trouble," and he and Weld have great "best friend" chemistry; as I recall, they were also good together in PRETTY POISON. I wonder if this is the first Hollywood movie to use the word "dildo" (twice!) and show someone (a Marlboro Man-type actor played by Tony Young) using poppers during sex. My favorite line, from Weld in a restaurant in reaction to a comment on her "existential" performance in her movie: "Existentially, I'm getting a hamburger." [Sundance]

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