The Simian Line (2000)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


THE SIMIAN LINE 

Reviewed by Harvey Karten Gabriel Film Group Director: Linda Yellen Writer: Gisela Bernice Cast: Lynn Redgrave, Jamey Sheridan, Cindy Crawford, Samantha Mathis, Dylan Bruno, Monica Keena, Harry Connick Jr., Tyne Daly, William Hurt, Jeremy Zelig, Eric Stoltz Screened at: Review 2, NYC 10/23/01

Despite the presence of ghosts and a palmist/fortune teller, Linda Yellen's "The Simian Line" based on a script by Gisela Bernice is about as naturalistic a film as you can imagine. You can see the influence that Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies") and Robert Altman ("Short Cuts") might have had on Ms. Yellen although admittedly "The Simian Line" is more enclosed and not as ambitious a social commentary. The story revolves around four couples--some just folks, others members of select occupational groups--who live just across the river from Manhattan in the quiet town of Weehauken, a place that has somehow resisted the gentrification that changed the ambiance and of course the real estate values of Hoboken. The theme is fear: not the fear that we in New York and parts of the U.S. are feeling because of recent political events but the kind of anxiety that couples have about losing their mates to others. The angst is justified despite the love that each character has for his or her partner, given the age differences and financial ambitions that divide the people.

Though the film is a reasonably short 106 minutes in length, it takes quite a bit of time to get into the story, to figure out what Yellen and Bernice are trying to say, but once the picture establishes a rhythm, "The Simian Line" becomes an entertaining and upbeat study of a disparate group of people: each of us in the audience can't be blamed if we identify with at least one of them, given the down-home treatment that is afforded by the film.

The central relationship is between Katharine (Lynn Redgrave), a real estate agent, who is enjoying a romantic affiliation with a much younger man, Rick (Harry Connick Jr.), who is a designer working with stained glass. Rick from time to time takes walks with the gorgeous Sandra (Cindy Crawford), giving Katharine the impression that her partner is flirting and perhaps even having an affair. Sandra, however, is happily married to Paul (Jamey Sheridan), a mergers-and-acquisitions guy whose career is just getting off the ground, a point which is important for the couple since both aspire to move across the river to Central Park West. Katharine is renting part of her place to a young, energetic and unmarried couple, rock musician Billy (Dylan Bruno) and band singer Marta (Monica Keena), whose alliance is threatened by the existence of Marta's young son Jimmy (Jeremy Zelig) whose father is dead.

When at a neighborhood Halloween party fortune teller Arnita (Tyne Daly) arrives to entertain the four couples, she announces to everyone's dismay that by New Year's, one of the pairs will have broken up. We in the audience are implicitly asked to take bets on which duo will be the unlucky one based on the way they behave during the next two months--and this is anybody's guess because life seems often to conspire to dissolve relationships, doesn't it?

The humor in "The Simian Line" (the title refers to a fairly uncommon line in the palm that relates to the division between thought and emotion) is of the gentle sort, given a delightfully supernatural tone whenever Edward (William Hurt) and Mae (Samantha Mathis) appear. Both are ghosts who can be seen only by the four-year-old boy and by Arnita, and they too are divided by temperament. Edward is Katharine's grandfather, a man who died in 1910 and considers himself a southern gentleman while Mae is a flapper who looks as though she were ready at any time to break into a Charleston. "The Simian line" is made for lovers of loosely-constructed narratives which are about people like us rather than those of us who picture ourselves to be James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Rated R. Running time: 106 minutes. (C) 2001 by Harvey Karten, film_critic@compuserve.com

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