No Looking Back (1998)
A grossly underrated film--but also not an "enjoyable" movie in the normal sense. It is such a realistic slice of life about a group of lower-middle class Long Island shore town dwellers, it sometimes fails to rise above its own material into a meaningful narrative. And that is what most movies find a way to do.
But you might reassess that intention and bask in a situation so simply wrought--the houses, the beach, the old cars, and most of all the array of people who fix cars and wait tables and hang out in ordinary working class bars. It all feels good even though it's not, overall, a feel-good movie. And the acting is generally spot on, even the doubtful inclusion of Jon Bon Jovi as one of the two main guys.
At the center of it all is the young woman, Claudia, played by Lauren Holly, who is trying to find a way to "not look back" and yet finds herself trapped by the town and her devotion to her friends there. (This is a slight flaw all along--this seemingly bright and striving young woman is still working at a diner when she could easily move on, or go to college, or get another kind of job.) But still, Claudia is nearly engaged to the nice guy Michael (Bon Jovi) when her ex-boyfriend Charlie from three years earlier returns to town. Charlie is played by writer/director Edward Burns and he might not be everyone's taste as a leading type, but he works in this role for me. He's charming and unreliable even in his actions, which are too coy and sweet and lovable for his sudden appearance in town.
So the conflict is there, and maybe it's not enough for a feature film. What fills in the gaps are small things, like a past abortion and its consequences, or a mother (played with utter brilliance by Blythe Danner) struggling with her own man issues. There are bar friends and a sister and a mechanic or two on the side, and it mixes and matches and floats and often avoids high drama or deeper plot development. Even the characters are left someone simple, partly because there are so many of them, but they become increasingly convincing.
What then makes the movie work? All of this, as it is, including its restraint and lack of the sensational. And most of all it's Holly's performance that builds and holds together through it all. I was surprised by the depth of what she pulled off and yet I'd never heard of her. It turns out she's been very active but in mostly smaller roles, both in movies and television. This is one movie never mentioned in highlights of her career, and I think it's a shame. Burns clearly pulled together people of talent for this small, focused movie, and as an independent movie with an independent feel it rises above its smallness. I have a feeling it will survive over the years and continue to be interesting for its honesty.
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