9 January 2000 | The_Movie_Cat
We're not worthy, we're not worthy!
In hindsight, the death of Sidney Poitier's film career probably began in 1989 with "Driving Miss Daisy". A huge "sleeper" hit for Morgan Freeman, which he capitalised on with later roles in "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Se7en".
As a result, the rare role of "elderly black man" in cinema (matched for obscurity only by the roles of Asian or disabled actors in Hollywood circles) has fallen in favour of Freeman. Not that that's a bad thing, Morgan is a fine actor, but to waste one of the major talents of the cinema (one of the fifty greatest film actors of all time? Twenty? Ten?) on tv movies is a sad waste. Sidney has starred in just eleven films in the last two decades, only five of them for the big screen.
And so, being a huge Poitier fan I rented out "David and Lisa", a love story between two patients at a home for the mentally ill. Lukas Haas and Brittany Murphy do well as the titular characters, while Sidney is, as expected, the greatest performer in the piece.
Yet while Haas gets to do all the real "acting", Sidney is required here to do nothing more than go through the motions, with no material to get his teeth into. Instead, he is called upon to deliver such saccharine lines as "If you don't fall in love with life then you are more dead than alive". His attempts to wade through what is essentially a treacly, self-consciously "heart-warming" story are blighted at every turn. His swift body language and familiar-yet-well-mannered facial array are slowed by the sentimental incidental music that punctuates any "touching" plot development.
For a film that professes to be about mental illness, it can be occasionally sloppy in it's presentation of said theme. The movie is guilty of perpetuating the widely-held myth that "Schizophrenia" refers to multiple personality disorders, while the notion of illnesses than can be cured by love is just too easy an option for a satisfactory resolution.
Ultimately, this is not a bad film, but then neither is it a particularly good one. I gave it average (5) marks, as, like the majority of tv movies, it is a sanitised work, content to sit there and occupy the attention for 85 minutes then go away again leaving no real lasting impression. It's not horrible, it's not bad for your health, but then neither will it alter your life in any great way. The film's undercurrent is the sort of self-aggrandising, pious worthiness that gives liberalism a bad name. In fact, the whole movie walks a tightrope between decent entertainment and preachy sentiment. The only thing it needs to take it over the edge into a swarfegic glob of overstated emotion is a introduction by Oprah Winfrey, where she talks about the film being a "timeless love story" and "love gives us the power to live".
Oh, wait a minute. She does do that, doesn't she? Damn.