Category Archives: Archived Movies

NEVER AGAIN

American romantic films involving leads older than forty are sufficiently rare on the ground that one would like to embrace “Never Again,” in which the decidedly unhunky Jeffrey Tambor enters into a comically troubled relationship with the no-longer-young-but-still-beautiful Jill Clayburgh. Unfortunately, as written and directed by Eric Schaeffer (“My Life’s in Turnaround,” “If Lucy Fell”), the picture is as cutesy and artificial as most Hollywood will-they-or-won’t-they scenarios featuring ultra-attractive studs and starlets. “Never Again” may be a low-budget independent production, but its mindset is no more advanced than that of the most ham-fisted studio efforts along similar lines.

Tambor plays Christopher, a long-divorced exterminator who’s had a succession of meaningless short-term dalliances, the last of which ends when he’s unable to perform in bed. Persuaded that his failure might indicate that he’s always been wrong about his sexual orientation, he decides to sample the gay lifestyle, tentatively, by engaging the services of a transvestite (Michael McKean). That doesn’t suit him, though, and the person he eventually meets in a bar is Grace (Clayburgh), a divorcee whose daughter has just left for college and who’s just had an unhappy experience with a blind date (he turned out to be a little person). After a highly contrived introduction–Christopher assumes Grace is another guy in drag–the two haltingly link up and eventually grow close. But Christopher is decidedly guy-shy: despite what seems a perfect coupling, he breaks it off. Needless to say, however, it just won’t do for them to be forever parted, so Schaeffer comes up with a particularly ridiculous twist on the “Affair to Remember” formula to close things on a happier note–a denouement that literally involves a character being run down by a horse in the middle of Manhattan. Never say that implausibilities are reserved for Hollywood blockbusters.

The problem with “Never Again” isn’t merely that apart from the age of the lead duo it follows exactly the trajectory one expects, but that Schaeffer feels compels throughout to employ routine characters and add scenes that are precious or sometimes positively bizarre. Grace, for example, has the obligatory sharp-tongued friends (Caroline Aaron and Sandy Duncan) who pressure her into dating again, and Christopher is saddled with a predictably garrulous, demanding mother (Suzanne Shepherd). But how, exactly, should one take a simply appalling sequence in which Grace dons a leather dominatrix mask and a plastic penis, only to be unable to get the stuff off when Christopher and Mom visit her apartment unannounced? And the episode toward the beginning involving Tambor and McKean is very poorly written and, in the playing, distinctly embarrassing to both actors, as well as to the audience.

“Never Again” isn’t without some small pleasures. Tambor and Clayburgh are both talented veterans, and there are moments when they overcome the archness of the material and achieve a touch of magic. It’s also a joy to encounter once more, after far too long an absence, Bill Duke as Earl, the buddy with whom Christopher plays jazz regularly in a little bistro. He’s wonderfully laid-back and nonchalant, and if the script had captured some of his easygoing charm, the picture could have been a winner. Instead, thanks to Schaeffer’s blunt-force writing and sledgehammer direction, it’s just a predictable take on the “Affair to Remember” formula with a thick overlay of heavy-handed quirkiness. A pity so much talent has been wasted on such an inferior script.

MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS (MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRICE)

Yvan Attal’s modest but amusing, and occasionally sharply observant, little film might be thought of as a sort of Gallic sequel to “Notting Hill,” in which a movie glamor queen (Julia Roberts) was romanced by a simple bookseller (Hugh Grant). “My Wife Is An Actress” asks the question whether a marriage between a big star (in this case Charlotte, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a regular fellow (in this instance a sports reporter named Yvan, played by Attal) can survive the jealousy that might arise from her work with handsome leading men. In Hollywood hands such a story could easily become nothing more than an ultra-cute modern version of the old Tracy-Hepburn formula, but here it has some welcome tartness, along with a touch of poignancy. When Attal signs his director’s credit at the beginning of the film “Sincerely yours,” you can’t help thinking that he’s doffing his hat to Preston Sturges’ wonderfully sharp 1948 jealous-husband comedy “Unfaithfully Yours.” That picture was more full-blown frantic farce, in the typical Sturges mold, than this one, but Attal’s approach, while more humane and delicate, has something of the same honest spirit.

When we meet the central pair, they seem quite happy together, though Yvan is a bit nonplused by the fact that his wife is constantly badgered by autograph-hunters whenever they go out to dine with his sister Nathalie (Noemie Lvovsky) and brother-in-law Vincent (Laurent Bateau). He seems secure in their love, however, until an old beau of Nathalie’s asks him how he feels about Charlotte’s getting intimate with her cinematic co-stars. Suddenly (all too suddenly, frankly), Yvan begins to suspect that his wife might be seduced by John (Terence Stamp), the aging but still rugged hunk (and notorious Lothario) with whom she’s just begun filming a project in England. Soon he’s traveling the Chunnel train regularly to keep tabs on his Charlotte, who is, in fact, being gently romanced by John but stoutly resisting him. Yvan’s jealousy, however, actually drives her further into her co-star’s arms. Meanwhile Yvan, trying to understand his wife’s world better, begins taking acting lessons, and before long a young fellow-student becomes infatuated with him. Interspersed with the tale of the growing strain on their marriage are scenes depicting a rancorous argument between Nathalie and Vincent about whether their coming child, if male, will be circumcised, and whether he’ll be given a name like Moses or Abraham.

There’s a good deal that’s charming and funny in the film, but what really sets it apart are the touches of rather hard drama mixed in with the comedy. If the relationship between Nathalie and Vincent were taken merely as comedic, for example, it would be unbearably shrill, and Lvovsky’s performance, in particularly, as much too rough; but it’s actually fairly heavy–it’s hardly a hallmark of a lighthearted romance to raise the specter of French anti-Semitism. (It also permits a brief, wonderfully brittle, glimpse of Yvan and Nathalie’s parents.) And while there are many endearing moments between Charlotte and Yvan, the troubles that emerge between them become quite serious by the close. Gainsbourg is quietly radiant in what’s basically a reactive role; Attal is much fiercer, sometimes excessively so. (One wonders whether another director might have exerted firmer control over him.) Stamp almost steals the picture with a performance of effortless grace, yet another addition to his growing gallery of late-career triumphs.

“My Wife Is An Actress” has its problems, even apart from its woefully unimaginative title–the most serious being the overly abrupt turn of its major character from slightly befuddled to strenuously jealous. Even the sequence that many viewers will probably chortle most over–one in which her director has the entire crew take off their clothes to make Charlotte more comfortable doing a nude scene (only to have Yvan, predictably, show up)–actually seems intrusive and mood-breaking. But there’s enough that’s good in the picture that it’s easily worth a look.