Category Archives: Archived Movies

THE NEXT BEST THING

Toward the close of John Schlesinger’s exceedingly melodramatic
new film, Madonna says to her co-star, Rupert Everett, “We’ve
sure messed things up, haven’t we?” No lie. This astonishingly
bad tearjerker, a Fannie Hurst weepie with a gay twist, is as
phony as a three-dollar bill and just about as entertaining.

To be fair, there might have been the germ of a decent idea in
Thomas Ropelewski’s script, about a gay man and a straight
woman trying to raise a son together; but the story’s been
fashioned as a clumsy soap opera no better than what one might
regularly encounter–or seek to avoid–on afternoon television.
In this meretricious final form, the plot concerns a thirtyish
woman (Madonna) who, after her boyfriend (Michael Vartan) leaves
her, finds herself pregnant following a one-night drunken
sleepover with her best friend, gay landscaper Robert (Everett).
The two decide to live together and raise the child as a couple,
even though they won’t marry and each will be free to enjoy
relationships in accordance with their individual inclinations.
After the passage of some years, with all going nicely, Abbie
finds a beau (Benjamin Bratt), and their decision to wed and
leave sunny California for New York leads to a bitter custody
battle over the kid, a precocious tyke named Sam (Malcolm Stumpf).
Much recrimination and many tears, hugs and pained conversation
follow, all presented in a lugubrious, florid style that
recalls such pieces of pop trash as “Back Street” and “Imitation
of Life.”

The film is yet another disaster for Schlesinger, who after much
early promise (“Darling,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Sunday Bloody
Sunday,” “Marathon Man”) has descended into utter hackdom in
his feature work (“The Believers,” “Pacific Heights,” “Eye for
an Eye”). (Happily his persistently fine television films–“An
Englishman Abroad,” “A Question of Attribution,” “Cold Comfort
Farm”–show that the talent is still there, waiting for the
right vehicle.) The cast, likewise, is overcome by the poor
material. Everett tries incredibly hard, but flails about
grotesquely as the sort of “wronged spouse” who might have been
played by in an earlier era by Lana Turner or Susan Hayward (or
by Claudette Colbert or Irene Dunne in a still earlier one);
it’s especially surprising to find him resorting to swishy gay
stereotyping in many scenes. Madonna puts a lot of effort into
her performance, too, but none of it seems to matter; the
singer is simply not an actress of any perceptible ability, and
remains remarkably inexpressive even at the most heated moments.
(The precise reason why she worked as the icily statuesque
Evita is why she doesn’t succeed in other roles.) Troopers like
Lynn Redgrave and Josef Sommer make it through their ill-written
sequences with only a glimmer of embarrassment; relative
youngsters like Bratt, Vartan, Illeana Douglas (as Everett’s
attorney) and Neil Patrick Harris (as an ill and therefore
“insightful” pal of Evrett’s) look good, but can’t do much
except attempt to recite their clunky dialogue without bursting
out laughing. On the other hand, Stumpf is simply insufferable
as the cute-as-a-button, wise-beyond-his-years Sam.

If you’re in the mood for a glossy, overheated cinematic
sudser, this bit of wretched excess might suit you. But
although it’s only March, it’s a fairly safe bet that when
December rolls around, “Best” will easily number among the
year’s worst.

BEYOND THE MAT

This documentary by Barry Blaustein is like a love letter to
professional wrestling, and particularly to Vince McMahon and
the World Wrestling Federation. Soft, repetitive to a fault,
and narrated by its maker in tones of wistful awe that seem
totally inappropriate to its subject, “Beyond the Mat” tells
very little that’s consequential and not much we didn’t already
know, apart from the fact that Mr. Blaustein, a comedy writer
who’s worked for “Saturday Night Live” and co-scripted several
Eddie Murphy films, looks upon the “sport” that’s entranced
him since childhood without a hint of ironic detachment. That’s
pretty amazing, given the awful press the WWF has received of
late.

The picture is structured as a tale of three wrestlers–
retiring veteran Terry Funk, exhuberant family man Mick Foley,
and tormented over-the-hill legend Jake Roberts. Footage of
the three, and interviews with them, are intercut throughout,
and Blaustein tries to piece it all together in a vague
chronological scheme, with the bits linked by his adoring
narration. The wrestlers seem like interesting characters:
Funk resembles a good-natured version of Pat Buchanan and
Foley a chubbier, bearded version of Richard Masur (whose
voice he even shares), while Roberts, a crack addict troubled
by his strained family ties, exudes a remarkable mixture of
pride and self-loathing. All are (perhaps surprisingly)
articulate fellows, and the picture certainly humanizes them.

But Blaustein’s treatment never goes much beyond the obvious,
and his portrayal of the business itself has all the earmarks
of an “approved” recitation. “Beyond the Mat” also needs
stronger editing than that provided by Jeff Werner, who allows
many sequences to ramble on far too long and failed to impose
impose a guiding thread on the episodic material.

“Beyond the Mat” was clearly a labor of love for Blaustein, but
it’s unlikely many viewers will respond to it with similar
affection.