Cassie’s life has been increasingly rotten ever since the night she stabbed her boyfriend in the neck with a fork down at the Chinese restaurant. He recovered, but Cassie has had a hard time of it. She gave up their baby for adoption, had to take a boring job in the small-town saloon, and watched her old beau get married to an icky girl whose father happens to be the richest man in town.
So Cassie is ripe for romance when an acting troupe comes out from the big city to put on some free Shakespeare in the park. She lives in a small Southwestern town, and the glitter and wonder of the theater is a perfect tonic.
So, as it turns out, is the dark, quiet guy (Eric Roberts) who works on the crew of the show – and who encourages her to try out for acting, give up pining for her old boyfriend, and even come out to Los Angeles.
The story of Nobody’s Fool, which comes from writer Beth Henley (who co-wrote True Stories and penned the upcoming Crimes of the Heart), is as old as the beautiful hills that surround the town. The tale of the small-town girl who loses her heart to the travelin’ show is well-worn, and some of the bare spots show.
Henley also has a tendency toward caricature in her minor characters, as with Cassie’s girlfriend (Mare Winningham) who advises her friend that painting toes and fingers with orange-marmalade-colored polish would be just the thing to break the doldrums.
Because of this, it’s an uneven film, as often shallow as it is ambitious. But, under Evelyn Purcell’s supportive direction, a number of scenes score with a fine sweetness. Cassie’s recitation of a speech from Romeo and Juliet turns out to be much more touching than it probably has any right to be, and there are some scenes that gently catch the exoticism of a first introduction to live theater.
A whole lot of this is due to the wide-open performance of Rosanna Arquette. She’s a raw, reactive actress, with every fleeting neurosis registered on her face. Arquette is uncannily accurate in capturing the girl’s existential panic with the strangeness of living: shouting, scowling, mumbling, skipping gleefully through the trees as she rehearses her first Juliet speech.
Arquette is a different sort of actor from Eric Roberts, who usually fusses his characters to death. He loves playing creeps (Star 80, Runaway Train) with lots of nervous tics, but here he’s a more or less ordinary guy. Which means his work is much more relaxed and natural than it’s ever been. .
Their chemistry is problematical – actually, Roberts has a supporting role, anyway. But every other scene or so, something quite charming happens. When they share some chili and cigarettes after a show one night, and Roberts tries to work up the nerve to ask her to stay the evening, the film gets a cozy, warm tone that’s very easy to get close to.
First published in The Herald, November 12, 1986
Director Purcell did a few things after this; she has credits on a bunch of Jonathan Demme’s early films. The cast includes Stephen Tobolowski, Gwen Welles, and Louise Fletcher; Jim Youngs plays the ex-boyfriend; he’d been in The Wanderers and the immortal Out of Control, as well as opposite Arquette in The Executioner’s Song.