25 March 2000 | FlickJunkie-2
Fascinating story with a few flaws
This was a slow moving but interesting story about a 50 something bohemian photographer named Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea) who is a serial seducer of impressionable young women. His seduction is not really about sex, although that is part of it. Instead, it is more of an emotional seduction that involves his creating a symbiotic mentor/protégé relationship that puts him in control while feeding his ego. His latest conquest is Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley), a recent college grad from a wealthy family who is all set to go to Harvard Law School. Clearly lonely and vulnerable and not used to the attention of men, she falls prey to the charms of this free spirited older man and eschews law school to run off with him and live the artsy life.
Director/writer Audrey Wells, whose best previous writing credits were for "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" does an excellent job bringing this story to the screen in her directing debut. Her shooting of the scenes was sensitively done and brought forth a lot of the emotional elements of the story and the characters. It is clear that this was a labor of love for Wells, but as is often the case, directing one's own work takes away the objectivity about the script leaving most of the plot problems intact.
It is believable that an insecure girl could be lured into a relationship by a charming older man who overtly appreciates her and believes in her abilities. May/September romances (or more aptly in this case April/August) are common and usually happen for all the reasons depicted here. The biggest problem with the story was the introduction of Billie (Gina Gershon), one of Connie's earlier alumni, so early in the story. Billie warns Harper of the specific manipulative lines that Connie uses repeatedly with each of his love interests, almost by rote. She gives great detail right down to the way he touched her and the fact that he calls them all Guinevere.
At that point, Harper does exactly what one might expect, she leaves him. Shortly thereafter, the story loses all credibility as she eagerly goes running back to him, knowing full well that she is being totally and impersonally manipulated. The entire relationship after that waits for an emotional explosion that never comes. The whole thing just sort of withers away with the eventual breakup being no more than a fait accompli. The breakup scene was weak and cowardly, which detracted greatly from the dramatic potential. If Wells had put Billie's scene closer to the end of the story to create the last straw it would have been more effective.
Wells also misses a great opportunity to add fireworks by not emphasizing Harper's relationship with her mother (Jean Smart). There was a natural emotional tension between the two and she was the one character who had complete clarity about the relationship. Finally, without giving too much away, the gathering of the five Connie alumni at the end was a bit goofy and highly implausible given the gravity of the situation. However, Wells does eventually redeem herself with a good ending and some of the best imagery of the film.
Sarah Polley was well cast in this film and exuded the pure naivety of a young woman inexperienced in the ways of love. She was wonderfully awkward and vulnerable and it was very believable that she could fall prey to the ministrations of an older man. Polley has a Winona Ryder quality about her and has excellent potential as an actress. It remains to be seen if she can break out of the role of quirky teen.
Stephen Rea was hopelessly miscast in this role. He didn't have the emotional horsepower to play this character. His acting is somewhat stoic and wooden and this character needed to be charming, passionate and obsessive. The part required an actor more like Michael Caine.
The best performance of the film goes to Jean Smart as Harper's outspoken and gregarious mother. She completely steals the movie with her confrontational scene with Connie, explaining to him why he can't make it with women his own age. She is terrific in every scene she is in and the fortune cookie scene is fantastic.
Overall, I rated this film a 7/10. This film will probably be most appealing to men over 50 and women under 25. None of the flaws were fatal, but the pace was slow and the plot implausible in parts. That detracted from an otherwise engaging story and some very good technical filmmaking.