The Rachel Papers

August 13, 2012

We have a new English film about a young man plotting to get a girl while, Alfie-style, he’s receiving a moral education. No, this isn’t Getting It Right. That film came out at least three months ago. This is another English film about a young man plotting, etc. This one’s called The Rachel Papers.

Based on a 1973 novel by Martin Amis, The Rachel Papers has a 19-year-old hero, a cocky Londoner named Charles, who taps all of his romantic knowledge into a computer, where his reservoir of facts and, ah, figures will help him in his love life. Except that his life doesn’t have much love in it; plenty of action, but not much love.

Then he meets Rachel, a knockout who seems to him the ultimate conquest. So Charles the Conqueror sets out to win her, using all of his data base methods. In this, writer-director Damian Harris (the son of actor Richard Harris), works a conventional line. Charles, like Alfie, regularly turns from a scene to address the audience in conspiratorial tones.

Much of this works. The most amusing sequence comes after Charles gets the girl, and she spends a couple of weeks at his place. Protracted proximity brings sexual bliss, but also a strong dose of reality. There’s a funny moment when Rachel sits in Charles’ bedroom, singing tunelessly to a song on the radio, and Charles slowly looks up from his book to register his irritation. She’s human after all.

The film’s problem, at least in terms of finding a sympathetic audience, is that we’re enlisted in Charles’ cause all the way through the film, particularly through his direct entreaties to the audience. But he’s a swine. He receives his comeuppance near the end and learns his lesson, but some may have a hard time sympathizing with him until then. Especially women. The Rachel Papers takes a decidedly male point of view.

Ione Skye, who also played the object of desire in the wonderful Say Anything…, is Rachel, and James Spader, currently in sensational form in sex, lies, and videotape, takes a supporting role as her unctuous boyfriend. The film is carried by Dexter Fletcher, who brings a certain reptilian energy to Charles. He’s also a dead ringer for the young Mick Jagger. If anyone’s preparing the Rolling Stones story, your lead actor is right here.

First published in the Herald, September 29, 1989

I haven’t read the Amis novel, but the movie feels like the same thing as usual. Dexter Fletcher’s been busy since this movie, mostly as a character actor. Getting It Right, by the way, was a film by Randal Kleiser.