1 October 2009 | moonspinner55
Somewhat esoteric drama with natural performances and dialogue...
Henri Simoun and Carol Sobieski wrote this teleplay from Sobieski's original story about the unstable, unfulfilled wife of a dentist who occasionally takes off with her 13-year-old daughter for adventures on the road; this time they end up in the desert near Nevada, at a roadside café run by a drunken cook/mechanic/loner who takes a shine to the two ladies and invites them to stay. The premise for this TV-made character study sounds formulaic, though the results are anything but. Loaded down with talent (including director Frank R. Pierson, producer John Badham, and actors Gig Young, Denise Nickerson and Lee Grant, who won an Emmy), the film is sometimes scarily precise about the ways in which we interact with one another. It is predictable that the two adults will find solace with each other--and that the youngster will disapprove and want her father back--however the conversations which lead up to the final events are heartbreakingly real (if at times facetious). Grant's chronic irresponsibility and sadness isn't played for big melodrama--she's more like a wilted flower; Young, gaunt and grizzled, comes to appreciate her company and soon finds himself through helping her. Nickerson (who went on to play Violet Beauregarde in 1971's "Willy Wonka") is a precocious kid who talks like a grown-up, carries around a self-help tome about sex, and makes all the actual adults very uncomfortable with her probing questions. This is a sterling performance from the child actress, although there's too much emphasis on her near the end and she becomes an unreal creation by virtue of her actions. I have no idea what the filmmakers were trying to say with their confounding conclusion. Baffling, unsatisfying and off-putting all at once, it will surely leave most viewers scratching their heads, wondering what the point of the whole exercise was. Still, for a television enterprise, "The Neon Ceiling" is mature and impressive, with excellent cinematography and wry horse-sense. It's worth finding.