Saturday, August 22, 2009

AFTERGLOW (Alan Rudolph, 1997, Canada) Lucky is a handyman who has been servicing desperate housewives, unclogging pipes with his adjustable wrench, but remains trapped in the gloom of his troubled marriage. Protégé of the legendary Robert Altman, director Alan Rudolph looks inside two marriages: one of introverted repression and the other of overt sexual gregariousness, four lives whose nexus seems an impossible coincidence. The films crosscuts between Jeff & Marion Byron’s relationship, focusing upon his homosexual tendencies, which he attempts to quell but only discovers motherly affectation, his beautiful wife wanting a child but left cold and disenchanted. The contrast is Lucky and Phyllis Mann’s dutiful marriage, two people stuck together but who have scorned desire for one another due to a tragic argument and the loss of their child. This interesting premise descends towards soap opera, with actor Jonny Lee Miller doing his best Tom Cruise imitation (which isn’t difficult, he speaks in a monotone and shows no emotion) and Lara Flynn Boyle just too naïve a caricature to be believable. Nick Nolte and the effervescent Julie Christie carry the film through to its sappy conclusion, imbuing their characters with a sublime heartfelt humanity that almost redeems the story’s superficiality. The crux of the narrative is too improbable and is a complete setup for the conflict…and the resolutions that follow. The cinematography is haunted by Altman’s shade, with slow zooms and tracking shots, minimal edits, often filming dialogue in open spaces buzzing with background noise or through windows and curtains: this seems more mimicry than allusion with little purpose or significance. The conclusion is just too contrived, ripe with cliché and pretentiously unbelievable in context of the whole picture. The Mark Isham new age “jazz” score is like listening to elevator muzak, its soft purring incantations lulling the viewer to sleep. As Jeffrey permanently exits his metaphysical closet, he quotes Norman Bates, “Sometime we all go a little mad”. The Mann’s are left with a six-pack of beer and chocolate mousse, and a forlorn visage gazing towards a brighter future. (C-)

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