Nobody’s Fool

September 14, 2020
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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.

Rude Awakening

April 2, 2020

rudeawakeningFor a movie with such a ridiculous premise, Rude Awakening has a surprising amount of sweetness.

It’s about two FBI-dodging hippies (Eric Roberts and Cheech Marin) who have hidden away in the Central American jungles for 20 years, and return to America 1989 to find that things didn’t turn out the way they expected.

All right, it sounds stupid. And, for the most part, it is, although the film is not the situation comedy it may sound. Actually, Rude Awakening takes some pains to treat its subject with thoughtfulness. Of course, the thoughtfulness is interspersed with marijuana jokes, so nothing ever quite works as it should.

The two hippies return to New York City to find that their two best friends have become straight-arrow members of the Establishment. One is a high­ strung businesswoman (Julie Hagerty); she’s horrified when they arrive on the rug of her sterile condo: “You still look like dirty, smelly hippies,” she says. “You look great, too,” they reply.

The other old friend (Robert Carradine) has cornered the market in tanning salons. The revolution, except in ultraviolet rays, got lost somewhere along the way. But it probably goes without saying that the reappearance of the two old comrades-in-arms does a lot to rekindle these ex-radicals’ former beliefs.

There’s plenty of silly nonsense, obviously. The idea that the committed hippies of the 1960s have turned into the soulless yuppies of the 1980s is a familiar one, but there’s comic mileage left in the cliché.

The movie’s funniest scene involves an uptight ultra-yuppie couple (brilliantly played by Buck Henry and Andrea Martin) invading Carradine’s home and coming face to face with the long-hairs, who are busy smoking weed and calling for revolution. Henry and Martin deliver such devastating comic caricatures that the proceedings spring to consistent life for the longest stretch in the movie.

Other than that, Rude Awakening has a tendency to get stuck in its own dewy-­eyedness (and it founders on Eric Roberts’ inability to play a simple leading-man role). But it could have been worse, and in a month in which we’ve been repeatedly told how meaningless Woodstock was, the film’s flower-power charm is even refreshing.

First published in the Herald, August 1989

People must have been marking the Woodstock anniversary that year, and this was a period when conservative pundits were fond of insisting that the Sixties were responsible for all our contemporary problems. So that’s what the last paragraph is about. In the review I keep talking about how ridiculous this movie is, but then acknowledging that it’s actually pretty good, so I don’t know why I was embarrassed about it. Co-director Robert Greenwalt previously did the fun Secret Admirer and went on to success in TV, including the Buffy the Vampire Slayer world. Co-director Aaron Russo later ran for office as a libertarian and made a documentary about the evils of the IRS, or something like that. So I’m not sure what’s going on there.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

January 21, 2013

popeofgThe opening-credits sequence of The Pope of Greenwich Village promises much: As Frank Sinatra’s voice caresses the air with “The Summer Wind,” we see a man meticulously preparing himself for an evening out. He slips on an expensive jacket, natty tie, classy accessories. He walks out into the evening with smooth self-assurance.

The upshot of this is that the guy, Charlie, is a maitre d’ at a fancy restaurant. Still, he knows what he’s about, and he’s got great dreams. He and his girlfriend, Diane, plan to break out of their home in Little Italy and own a restaurant in the country someday.

Charlie’s got a problem, however. The problem is he’s bound by blood to a perpetual loser named Paulie, his third cousin. Paulie, working as a waiter at Charlie’s restaurant, promptly gets them both fired when he won’t stop stealing money.

Out on the street, Paulie comes up with a new scheme. He buys a share of a racehorse—he’s heard the horse is the offspring of a champion, by means of “artificial inspiration”—and then plans a burglary to have enough money to bet big when the horse comes in a winner. Paulie drags a reluctant, unemployed Charlie into the plot, without telling him that the payroll they’re going to take belongs to the local underworld kingpin.

It’s one of those movies in which the characters keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. The Pope isn’t a depressing movie because of this, however. The only depressing thing is that so little has been done with a potentially rich subject.

Vincent Patrick, whose maiden screenplay this is (he adapted his same-named novel), has things going in all directions. Charlie’s concern for his helpless, no-good cousin is touching, but his gruff devotion isn’t really given enough background to make it comprehensible. It becomes tough to believe that the family connection is enough. And Diane’s character is never successfully integrated into the story; after a while she just disappears.

Director Stuart Rosenberg, who might have brought the film’s tangential elements together, just contributes to the mess. He doesn’t seem to be equipped to impose any overriding sensibility that might have brought things into focus.

If the film is a rather enjoyable mess, it’s because of the cast. Daryl Hannah is appealing as Diane, and there are well-turned supporting bits by Kenneth McMillan, as a thief who helps Charlie and Paulie; Burt Young, as the gangland chief; and Tony Musante, as one of Young’s henchmen, who has tears in his eyes as he tells his old friend Paulie he’ll have to maim him.

Eric Roberts—most recently the psycho husband in Star 80—manages to be both studied and overwrought as Paulie. Oddly enough, that’s appropriate for this character, but Roberts would benefit from watching his co-star, Mickey Rourke, for a lesson in natural screen acting.

Rourke, the hairdresser of Diner and the motorcycle boy in Coppola’s Rumble Fish, is short, not conventionally handsome, and speaks softly most of the time. But he’s got the kind of screen presence that inspires immediate audience sympathy, and when he’s on screen in The Pope, the film blows through with the ease and pleasant feeling of the summer wind.

First published in the Herald, June 26, 1984

Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke: what a set it must have been. IMDb says this movie was prepared and steered through pre-production by Michael Cimino, which conjures up a wilder project.