Sympathetic look loosely based on the relationship between tobacco heiress, Doris Duke (1912-1993) - think Duke University - and her shy butler, Bernard Lafferty. The icy and mercurial Duke fires her butler for serving a chilled cantaloupe; the agency sends Lafferty, formerly household staff to Liz Taylor and to Peggy Lee. He's an alcoholic, fresh out of rehab. He gradually becomes Duke's gay alter ego as she romps through life sleeping with young men, making shrewd decisions quickly, managing her fortune and orchids as Lafferty manages her New Jersey estate. With a wine cellar to die for, Bernard falls off the wagon. Can he pull himself together when Doris needs him? Written by
Famed true-crime author, journalist and mover within exclusive society and socialite circles, the late Dominick Dunne, makes a cameo appearance as a member of Doris Duke's advisory board. See more »
When Doris is reading her will, she identifies her city of residence as Somerville, New Jersey. Duke Farms, the site of Duke's residence, is actually in neighboring Hillsborough, New Jersey. Duke Farm now operates as a nature preserve and public park. See more »
I wonder. Sometimes I really do value something simple done extraordinarily well over something deep and ambitious done incompletely. Its rare, and I can feel it coming on with an aura that gives me warning. At such times, I have films like this ready. You never know if they will work, but you do know generally that they are built to be simple and direct.
And you can judge something of the approach by the people involved. This was far less perfect than it would have had to been to justify the situation which is simple. Rich woman, needy subservient man, along the lines of "The Dresser," or a dozen other approaches to the type. She accepts and rewards the devotion. End.
So you have three individuals here, the two actors and the director. Each is placed for our judgment. Sarandon has by far the simplest task: to portray a simple woman. I believe her to be an actress with one or two mannerisms that were invested long ago in compelling characters, and thus unavailable here. She's not someone you could be charmed by.
That could work well, even amplify the pitiful state of the character Fiennes plays. Unless he is allowed to shout, Fiennes brings only one quality: the portrayal of the suppressed self. This was perfect for one of my favorite films: "Oscar and Lucinda," where that effect was apt. Unlike Sarandon, he's not afraid to be the same guy over and over.
Well, we could still be saved by Balaban. He is an intelligent man who knows staging, and who knows paired acting. But he's the big disappointment here. Everything is derived. Nothing is original. The whole idea was supposed to be that this woman was rare, unique. That merely being with her was an experience worth the effort. Fiennes' character is our surrogate, working to get close and stay close. This could have been effected by all manner of dramatic and cinematic devices, none of which seem to have been tried.
Its as if this were a cheap play, not a rich life and a half.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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