11 August 2011 | gradyharp
Tedium: A Sad Footnote to Horton Foote
Horton Foote (1916 - 2009) ) was an American playwright and screenwriter, perhaps best known for his Academy Award-winning screenplays for the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird and the 1983 film Tender Mercies, and his notable live television dramas during the Golden Age of Television. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1995 for his play The Young Man From Atlanta. His last original screenplay as MAIN STREET: it is fortunate that he didn't live to see it produced. MAIN STREET seems to have something to say - that the economic crisis has devastated small towns to the point of making questionable decisions out of desperation about improving their near ghost town status; that lessons from around the world (Chernobyl and Fukushima, etc) about toxic waste too often go unheeded; that flight of youth from small towns merely to seek change is not always emotionally convincing a decision: that family history and the accoutrements of same don't necessarily guarantee survival for descendants. And out of these plausible concerns could come a decent story, but here the result is flatline. In his film debut as a director John Doyle (known for fine productions of the operas Peter Grimes, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and the musical comedy Company) he fails to show a grasp of the use of film to tell a story and we are left with a stew of separate ingredients that seem almost immiscible.
Durham, North Carolina is the setting - a town shrinking by the year because of lack of jobs and crumbling businesses - and the major (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is desperate, deciding whether to schedule or move or cancel the annual parade from Thanksgiving to Christmas due to the town's lack of interest and depression. Enter Gus Leroy (Colin Firth) who has rented a defunct tobacco warehouse from a town widow Georgiana Carr (Ellen Burstyn) to store canisters of Hazardous Waste awaiting transport to Vernon, Texas for burying: Leroy's apparent Ecology informed company offers the Durham city council the opportunity for economic resurrection. Georgiana has misgivings about the rental and is faced with the fact that her trust fund form her wealthy father is depleted and she must consider selling the mansion in which she has lived since her birth. She seeks advice form her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson) who at first objects but on meeting Leroy falls for the man and the project. As a sidebar another family faces changes: young Mary Saunders (Amber Tamblyn) is under the spell of her boss (Andrew McCarthy) but still loves her high school sweetheart Harris (Orlando Bloom), a young cop who is studying law at night and living with his depressed mother (Margo Martindale), urging Harris to 'go steady' with Mary and forget law school to stay in Durham. The human factor enters: there is an accident of one truck hauling canisters (and event that changes the outlook of the wannabe entrepreneur Leroy), Mary's boss is married, and the concept of 'progress' in the decaying town of Durham changes along with the changes in the folk involved in the story.
Aside from failing to involve the audience in the story or the characters, the conundrum is why would such a stellar cast of brilliant actors (Colin Firth, Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Burstyn, Orlando Bloom) sign on for such an obvious box office disaster (it is yet to be released)? One can only assume that it was an homage to the memory of the brilliant writer Horton Foote. It is a shame this screenplay is the last note of the legacy he left us.