A BEVY OF BEAUTIFUL TALENT IN NEW FILMS

You may wonder how much the four narrative threads in Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love say about each other and/or hang together.  You may wonder if the confusing time frames are deliberately reflective or unintentionally muddling.  You may wonder how the master filmmaker could allow the overhead mike to be seen in at least six shots.  But you will not wonder if the acting is good  —  especially on the part of the splendid female cast.  As Milly, the young but decidedly unblushing new bride, Alessandra Mastronardi is sweet, charming and sexy.  She is well cast and she and the director make the most of it.

But the film jumps vividly to life when Penelope* Cruz comes through that hotel room door as Anna the call girl who is a gift from friends to the occupant.  It takes Anna, who is determined to do her job, a long time to believe that the young groom in the room is the wrong man.  SPOILER ALERT:  Probably the most likeable of the film’s characters, Anna is a good sport about pretending to be the absent bride when the groom’s relatives show up and enter without knocking.  The prostitute is as well cast as the bride, and Cruz delivers another solid performance.

The triumph, though, is Judy Davis’s.  As Kay, wife of Arnold the Woody Allen character, Davis makes a vivd character out of what in many hands would have been a thankless role, a nothing part.  With little dialogue she makes her facial reactions to Arnold’s behavior and comments a highlight of the film.

As Phyllis in David Frankel’s Hope Springs (an original screenplay by Vanessa Taylor), Meryl Streep gives a nuanced and touching portrayal as a sensitive but potentially feisty and eventually fierce wife who has grown weary of a marriage without intimacy.  Director, writer and actress create a vivid portrait of facial expression, gesture and body language.  Given that this is a film about people talking  —  or failing to talk  — the visual surprises and camera narrative are consistently surprising.

In the early scenes Tommy Lee Jones is such a boorish bore that you are asking yourself why Phyllis chose him and why she wants to stay married to him.  Once the two are in the therapy sessions, though, you begin to see a man afraid of intimacy and especially intimacy that might lead to sex.  Jones gives the role depth and makes us care about Jerry.

*Sorry, Penelope, I have no accents on my keybaord at this time.

NEXT FRIDAY POST September 28

See you at the movies,
Rick

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