Guinevere (1999) Poster


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Fascinating story with a few flaws
FlickJunkie-225 March 2000
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.
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The truth about scaredy-cats and horndogs
nunculus26 September 1999
The young Canadian actress Sarah Polley can sizzle in character parts--she burns a hole in the screen in her tiny bit in Cronenberg's EXISTENZ, and she was luminous as the princess in the wheelchair in THE SWEET HEREAFTER. But in leading roles, she seems both brittle and amoeboid. As Harper, the insecure and overlooked daughter of a family of cutthroat lawyers, she has one amazing scene--being seduced, her reactions fry out her speakers, sending from giggly hysteria to overdrive lust. Harper is seduced by an aging bohemian wedding photographer (Stephen Rea)--a lush who talks a big game, pontificates in bars with his low-rent cronies, and makes a sport and a pastime of mentoring (and groping) avid young women. But we don't see any hunger, any passion or obsession in Harper. When the photographer, Connie, tells her she has talent it's an obvious pick-up line--not because she hasn't done any work, but because she shows no interest in anything but being noticed.

The writer-director, Audrey Wells, doesn't show much interest in anything else, either. The author of the scripts for GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE and INSPECTOR GADGET, her first indie feature has more than a whiff of the dilettante. Like AMERICAN BEAUTY, GUINEVERE likes to flirt with the idea of having an "edge," then shies away from it. Both of these movies are just too damned clear. The pleasure of that seduction scene is that Harper responds in ways that are messy, funny, unprogrammed; every other scene in the picture makes its point in letters so bold the thickest member of the audience couldn't miss it.

You can take the girl out of the studio, but ain't no way you're taking the studio out of the girl. The lechy photographer's big sin--the thing that makes him evanesce in Harper's eyes--is that, at fifty, he's still stumping and hustling for cash. Can Audrey Wells really intend that it's okay for Connie to be a serial phony, an ego-inflating come-on artist, but his real Achilles' heel is that he never made real money? (Wells' point seems to be: Connie gets Harper's tender young flesh--he could at least pay the bills.) Every scene is so blandly overdetermined it reeks of falsity--especially the much-applauded one where Harper's bitchy mom (Jean Smart) comes into Connie's loft and undoes their relationship with a single cutting observation. (Would these lovers react with such shock to such an obvious accusation?)

For someone making a movie about the romance of the artist's life, Wells seems to have no clue how artists talk to each other, or even behave--she seems to think that's egghead stuff the audience won't care about. But it's that, not sex, that's supposed to be the fundament of Connie and Harper's relationship. Despite Rea's and Polley's efforts, the movie drowns in big-movie timidity. And the ending--a Felliniesque princess fantasy where all of Connie's sweet young things gather for an All That Jazz adieu--maybe intended to be tender. It comes across as a final, passive-aggressive flipping of the bird to a half-forgotten, dirty-minded teacher.
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Whose story was this, anyway?
bron-tay3 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'm putting this in here not so much for the purposes of explaining or reviewing, but for 1) giving other haters of Guinevere a place to check in, and 2) entertaining those who love to read negative reviews of movies they know they're going to see anyway.

Poor, pathetic Harper, literally hiding in the closet at her sister's wedding, her hair mussed and her bride's-maid dress sagging off her shoulders. "You've obviously mistaken me for someone with potential," she barely manages to squeak to the wedding photographer, in one of the multitudinous lines of on-the-nose dialogue in this self-conscious, overwrought clunker.

Somehow this bright, beautiful 20-year-old has managed to get through her entire life, including four years of college, without once meeting a person who has affirmed her intelligence and her creativity, even though she's smart enough to have been accepted into Harvard Law. Similar ironies occur in real life--the beauty who thinks she's ugly, the overachiever who thinks she's not doing enough--but at some point you lose interest in a character who's either got some serious personality disorder or whose creator (the writer) imagines that weird gestures and speeches can take the place of psychology.

The beautiful, bright girl proves utterly vulnerable to the seducements of the wedding photographer: an older, less-promising, often insolent, and lecherous man who says things to her like "You can do it" and "You must learn to detest the bourgeoisie." Oh, I don't remember if he actually said *those* things, but his utterances are so much hogwash that only an impression of nonsense remains. Harper is introduced to . . . coffee houses! She listens to . . . jazz! Someone actually asks her about her ideas for the first ever time in her whole entire life! To go back to the biographical thing, how did this girl ever get the liberal arts education required to enter Harvard Law without someone at least once eliciting her opinion on something? And probably admiring it? Without ever having a lively conversation with intellectual and creative types? Without ever laughing? Without going through that whole fascinating-older-man thing about ten times? Without getting a glimpse outside the world she came from?

Unlikely, weird scenes get slapped on, one after the other, without any progress in character or conflict. She throws herself on him hungrily. She moves in. He insults her, she runs away, she insults him and then comes back, they insult each other and reunite. When he's at his lowest, she goes into a frenzy of taking his picture, presumably off a roll of film with about 200 exposures on it. Then she gets him into focus and relents with a whimper.

Ultimately, the photog turns out to be every bit as bad as he promises, and perhaps a little better since he's principled enough to send her away when it's at the point where the relationship can do nothing but drag her down. Fast-forward to so many years later and she's giving him the last and only thing she can: her best wishes for a good death. The scene drags on and on, and ends with his dissolution into heavenly white light. Why? Whose story was this? "He was the worst man I ever met. Or the best man I ever met." This ham-fisted summary, I suppose, is supposed to be a specimen of brilliant, tortured, complex ambiguity. To me, it's a failure to make a stand, an excuse for the writer to dump a truckload of contradictions into a character then sneak away without explaining any of it. And why end with him? Again I ask, whose story was this?

Audrey Wells, you're a fraud.
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Reminiscent of Casablanca, he sends his love off to safety.
TxMike28 March 2000
I suspect the theme of this movie is a relatively common fantasy among "mature" single men. Namely, find a very young woman who needs guidance and love, attach no strings, and plan on her leaving as she grows up. "Guinivere" is hard to watch in places, especially as the couple arrives in L.A. and it becomes crystal clear to her what her man really is all about. However, it is a well-done study of human needs and conflicts. And ultimately, resolutions.

Guinivere's mother's analysis is spot-on, mature women just don't have "awe" of this dysfunctional photographer, and that's why he is always with a much younger woman.

I gave this movie "8" of "10". Not because it is fun to watch, but because it does such a good job of exploring family relationships and individual growth.

Oct 2006 addition: Seeing part of it again today, I realized something which escaped me on first viewing. The first time he asks her to pick which of two photos is best, he was just setting up the rest of his ruse. He used it as a trick of sorts to make her believe she had a photographic talent.
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Moving, witty and well acted.
g217 April 1999
All of the characters were honestly portrayed and I think that Ms. Wells has put together a very moving and appropriate piece. The dialog is witty and very natural. Plot and dialog aside, this film is worth watching for the performances alone! Stephen Rea and Jean Smart are both amazing and anyone who had doubts that Polley is bound for greatness should see this film!
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I really wanted this to be a good film. It just wasn't.
bgilch4 September 1999
I just saw of this film at the Montreal World Film Festival. Stephen Rea and Sarah Polley were in attendance. You could not ask for two better actors. Rea plays a 45-50ish photographer who seduces 20 yr. old Sarah Polley to give up her law school career and become an artist and his live-in- lover.

The director and writer, Audrey Wells, also directed and wrote The Truth About Cats and Dogs. I intensely disliked that film because it was implausible, not grounded in any reality, and because even the luminous Jeneane Garafalo couldn't save it. Audrey Wells also wrote Inspector Gadget; clearly, her writing leaves something to be desired. In this film she manages to put interesting situations (May-September romance / high vs. low class) forth but whenever they approach any hard edges here comes the soft humour or easy way outs or just plain ambiguously unrealized character motives. Polley's character would get to say one disturbing or strong thing, then have go on acting so obviously well below her & her character's intelligence.

I consistently thought scenes were misdirected and that the writing gave up on itself and fell into cliche, sapping it of any force it had. And with the potential force between these two great actors never realized it was a sad loss. This is no Lolita or Educating Rita. Consider even the ballyhooed scene were Jean Smart, in a good job, takes down Rea's character in front of her daughter (the 'awe' scene.) The camera focusses intently on Smart's malice. Think how much better that little diatribe would be if we were watching *Polley's* reaction while hearing the *mother's* words. That would be a real dislocation. Then we could see the full range of which Polley is absolutely capable.

Also, the soundtrack music was very synthetic and touchy-feely and it worked completely against the (potentially) creepy aspect of the film, until the white-light hogwash of the end. But if you liked all that white-light business in "Kissed" & if you could tolerate the preposterous situation of Cats & Dogs, then maybe you will like this film. As it was, I found it singularly unconvincing, the moreso as it went along.

ps. Sandra Oh is very funny with the two minutes of screen time she gets. Sandra Oh is always excellent. If you want to see a good Sarah Polley & Sandra Oh film, rent "Last Night". It's brilliant. For Stephen Rea, look forward to his next Neil Jordan film.
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A disturbingly good movie
Shiva-1111 October 1999
Guinevere: Harper Sloane (Sarah Pollack) is a painfully shy young woman trapped in a household of lawyers lorded over by an alpha-mother (Jean Smart) who treats her like a servant. Destined to attend Harvard law school and join the pack, Harper finds her salvation in Connor Fitzgerald (Steven Rea), part-time photographer/philosopher, full-time con-man Svengali. Connor actually listens to what she says and offers her escape into an exciting bohemian lifestyle. Will he be her salvation or downfall? There are shades of Leaving Las Vegas in this film - it is dark and at times unpleasant - one scene in particular made me so uncomfortable I turned away from the screen. To its credit, Guinevere, like Leaving Las Vegas, is also a very good film. Sarah Pollack is outstanding as the withdrawn Harper (in stark contrast to her brazen, street-wise savvy Ronna in Go!). Although she's actually twenty, she looks fifteen, which helps to convey a believable vulnerability and transformation.

Rea is truly manipulative as Connor, more pathetic than sinister, who preys on young women - you're never quite sure if you should loathe or pity him. Finally, Jean Smart does an excellent job as the hard-as-nails matriarch, miles away from her smarmy character on Designing Women.

Well worth the price of admission.
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Jean Smart Steals the Show
jhclues6 May 2001
A young woman living in San Francisco, who has just been accepted to Harvard, decides upon another path after meeting and falling under the influence of an older man, an artist, in `Guinevere,' written and directed by Audrey Wells. Sarah Polley stars as Harper Sloane, who lives with her career oriented, rather self-absorbed family-- her parents, Alan (Francis Guinan) and Deborah (Jean Smart), and her older sister, Susan (Emily Procter). Rather self-conscious and unsure of herself, Harper has allowed her parents to plan her future-- a career in law, though it is decidedly against her own wishes. Then at Susan's wedding she meets the photographer, Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea), an artist, who quickly gains her confidence and lures her into his own bohemian lifestyle. She moves in with him (unbeknownst to her parents, who think she's staying with a friend for awhile), and he becomes her mentor; she is his `Guinevere,' and the only demands he makes of her is that she `create' something every day. The choice of her artistic endeavors is entirely up to her; photography, painting, writing, dancing. but she must create.

Inevitably, of course, their relationship develops beyond the mentor/protege stage, and she learns some things about him that ultimately lead to complications. And she discovers that her reign as Queen Guinevere may not be all that she had expected it to be.

Wells convincingly presents the allurement of a lifestyle free of constraints and overwhelming demands, which makes it quite understandable that the indecisive Harper would choose to go with Connie, rather than adhere to the wishes of her parents, who are rather cold and impersonal and altogether controlling (especially her mother). The fact that Alan dotes on Susan and could seemingly care less about Harper, as well as Deborah's apparent lack of actual concern for Harper, qualifies the facility with which Harper is able to effect her plans so readily. And even when Deborah finds out what Harper is up to (which, of course, was inevitable), she seems to take it as a personal affront more than anything, and is content with merely denigrating the relationship into which her daughter has entered, rather than even trying to change it, which ostensibly at least, would be the appropriate reaction of a concerned parent.

Polley is well cast as Harper, as physically and emotionally she is able to fit Harper's profile perfectly, and she gives a credible performance, though given her unassuming manner and fairly nondescript appearance, it says more about Connie than it does about her. And what you have already been able to deduce about Connie from his pursuit of Harper is further underscored during a scene in which Deborah confronts him with her views on the situation (which is arguably the most powerful scene in the film).

Rea is perfectly cast, as well, affecting a patient, reserved manner, touched with an almost forlorn weariness evocative of a certain wisdom-of-the-world attitude that makes Harper's attraction to him believable. And as the story unfolds, he very subtly allows you to see more of what lies beneath the surface until, in the end, you have a concise picture of who Connie really is. It's a fine, understated performance, and a good bit of work by Rea.

In a supporting role that demands mention, Jean Smart gives a smoldering performance as Deborah, a woman of seemingly insatiable needs and an overwhelming desire to dominate. And Smart plays it perfectly, from the look in her eye to the telling way she carries herself, making the most of her limited screen time and making Deborah the most memorable character of the film.

The supporting cast includes Gina Gershon (Billie), Paul Dooley (Walter), Carrie Preston (Patty), Tracy Letts (Zack), Sharon McNight (Leslie), Sandra Oh (Cindy), Grace Una (April) and Jasmine Guy (Linda). Though not a film with which you can get too emotionally involved, `Guinevere' has it's moments and does manage to maintain interest. The characters are real enough, but they evoke a sense of ambivalence; these are not people you are necessarily going to like or dislike. In the final analysis, it's a good film, and worth seeing-- but with the possible exception of Smart's character, there is nothing especially memorable or compelling about it. I rate this one 6/10.
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Pardon me while I spew
nedelka4 June 2008
I got roped into watching this drivel by my girlfriend. It was On Demand and I had had a couple of beers so I said 'why not'. Well, if you're interested, here's why not: This galling display of perversion is so caustic to the sensibilities of any thinking person that I cannot believe anyone was truly happy with the film when it was completed. The characters are beyond unsympathetic and venture into the realm of embarrassing. Harper is a pathetic and hopeless individual if she made it as far in life as her storyline says she did without the skills she seems to lack. Worse, the life lessons she is supposedly learning clearly aren't sinking in if,after realizing her love interest is nothing but a lecherous, perverted, no talent, broke, lying loser who preys on naive, helpless girls when he exposes his intentions in LA at his former 'collector' friends' house, she happily goes along for the ride with only a little tantrum. Absurd. The collection of similarly abused women at the finale is just gross ("Class of '85!" Good gawwwwwwwd). This film is such a poorly executed self indulgence that it doesn't even live up to irony. Just plain awful. I can't even say that its worth watching for a laugh, because there's nothing funny about. Characters don't develop in any substantiated way. One second people are one thing, the next moment another, for no reason. We are led to believe that harper becomes successful. How? We never see one piece of work. She never gets any connections to dealers or marketers. Suddenly she just appears, wearing a mournful-yet-put-together looking black dress instead of her usual MC hammer style washed out jeans (in the late 90's? San Fran? really?) and tee shirt. Jesus. Where'd that come from? A hopeless attempt at a heartfelt art movie that subverts its own intentions with its meaningless artifice and sloppy, contrived, indulgent imagery. I never post anything on the internet, but this was so bad I couldn't help it. STAY AWAY!!!!
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horrible, disgusting, detestable
jonmills-315 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I've just watched a film so bad, I am visibly shaken, nearly to the point of vomiting. I love Sarah Polley. I find her mesmerizingly beautiful, and I thought she did the best that could be done in this film, under the circumstances.

That said, the 'Connie' character is just gross. And not even gross in a passive sort of way. Gross in a way that leaves you hoping and praying you can forget these memories, scratching to get the images out of your head.

Can anyone tell me what Connie died of? I mean, it doesn't even say, right? Is it cancer, perhaps related to his constant smoking? Or is it something still more disturbing? I'll tell you, what did it for me was the scene where he bites down on some piece of food, and his f*ing teeth fall out. I mean, what the f*$%?!?! I saw that and nearly threw up in my mouth. Then I went straight to the bathroom and brushed my teeth for half an hour.

Poor Sarah Polley. Someone put her in a good movie. I still liked 'Go,' in which Polley completely steals the entire movie from Katie Holmes.
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