Monday, January 21, 2013


What was it about the early 70s and doomed romances?  This film is like a less eccentric HAROLD AND MAUDE which turns into LOVE STORY. Timothy Bottoms is a shy, aimless, asthmatic college-age kid from a rich family whose father, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian, sends him on a cycling tour of Spain one summer, hoping he'll find himself. His asthma keeps him constantly catching up with the other cyclists, so he impulsively quits the group and hops on a bus tour where he sits next to Maggie Smith, a plain-looking woman probably near 40—she lives with aunts and older boarders, as we learn in a very amusing phone call—who whistles tunelessly to herself and reminds me of an older, less neurotic version of the Julie Harris character in THE HAUNTING. He's sweaty and wheezing and is responsible for getting a melted Almond Joy bar stuck to Smith's ass, but over a few days' time, the two become friendly. After a drunken night at a bar, he makes an ill-timed pass at her but they remain friends. We know something is wrong with her because she has spells of slurred speech and takes brightly-colored pills, and one night she tries, rather half-heartedly, to commit suicide. After their relationship becomes sexual, Bottoms rents a car and trailer and talks Smith into leaving the bus tour and motoring about with him. After some misadventures (including her brief flirtation with a Spanish duke who lives in a small castle), he proposes to her and she tells him she's dying of some fatal disease. Will they make the most of the time they have left together or are they too afraid to make a go of it?

I had my doubts in the beginning—Bottoms seems too mannered to be a believable character and Smith has too much spark to really come off as a dowdy spinster—but eventually the film works. Smith is amusing and it's fun to watch her being won over, bit by bit, by the charming and vulnerable Bottoms—he comes off a bit like a continuation of his character in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. The film's tone is a little wobbly; despite an underlying seriousness, many scenes are funny, though rarely laugh-out-loud so, and the film is at its best when it's being light. The last 10 minutes are almost disastrous; it's like the movie was running too long and they just chopped a 20 minute conclusion in half, so the ending, though satisfying plotwise, is very unsatisfying in the way it plays out. The photography of the Spanish countryside is lovely and director Alan Pakula displays some stylish moves now and then. [DVD]

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