Smart-but-ineffectual journalist Dan "We use euphemisms!" cannot decide between his girlfriend, loving-but-clingy waitress Alice, or his lover cold-but-intellectual photographer Anna; herself indecisive between Dan and honest-but-thuggish "You're bloody gorgeous!" doctor Larry. The film puts the four leading characters in a box and strips them apart.Written by
Written by Bebel Gilberto and Suba
Performed by Bebel Gilberto
Courtesy of Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees Records
Under license from Crammed Discs
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I prefer when a movie is a movie. But when a movie is a very good play, we should be happy as well because there just aren't that many good things around.
This is a play, there's no mistaking. All the dynamics in it are seated in the words, all the motives in the four beings. There is no cinematic device used or necessary, except the revealing of the passport at the end, and I am sure that was handled differently in the stage version.
Mike Nichols makes a living out of taking constructions that work well on the stage and adding a few cinematic glosses so that the thing gives the impression it was born as a screen being. I find his tricks in this regard distracting, even a bit offensive because he hasn't adapted as the visual vocabulary has.
Never mind. Just eliminate the film components of its being and focus on the stage components and you still have something worthwhile, because here Nichols is still fresh.
You can read other folks to learn the story. It hardly matters. What matters to me is the clever, deep way the writer has constructed the thing. The visceral effect is from the panic and desperation of love. Nothing new there. What makes this effective, I think, are two things. Writerly things.
The first is that he hasn't just described the tippy balance of living in a romance. He hasn't just displayed the radical fuzziness and unpredictability of a world where that is all you know. He's made it the root of the story. This story has absolutely none of the logic to it that you expect when you see a love story. Everything seems real and natural after it has happened, but there's no way at all to predict what will happen next when you are in the thing. Its a great help in storytelling; you have to cling fast to what is happening. Its the best type of engagement, sucking you in by simply making you wonder, even worry about what is going to happen next. Its rare. Its good.
I'd like to point out how the four characters are constructed. A popular writing technique is to take one whole soul and break it into bits. Then the bits can get fleshed out imperfectly and interact so that the interaction has a being. In this case, start with a movie. What four pieces do you need? The writer (Dan), the photographer (Anna), the actor (Alice) and the director, the person concerned with the "skin" of the thing.
Its no accident, I think that it is impossible to settle on any one of these characters. You can go through this experience time and time again, each time tracing a different person's path, or the path of a relationship or even an urge.
This part is great too. Apart from Nichols' cinematic naivety, there's only one blot: Julia Roberts. She just doesn't understand what it means to be part of an assembly. She's not an actress in the real sense, the theatrical sense that Nichols knows how to sculpt. No wonder he wanted Cate Blanchett instead.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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