Far Too Cool

By Steyn, Mark | The Spectator, February 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

Far Too Cool


Steyn, Mark, The Spectator


To be honest, I preferred John Travolta when he was washed up and reduced to doing those talking dog pictures. At least back then, unlike the pooches, he was kept on a tight leash. In Michael, he's out of control. I don't mean manic cameradevouring exhibitionism: Travolta's far too cool for that. Instead, he wanders through the picture as if it's a first read-through and he's turned up a couple of hours late because he stopped off at a pro-celeb golf tournament en route. Everything about the performance is slapdash and self-indulgent, and there's not a thing that Nora Ephron (director of Sleepless in Seattle) can do about it.

He plays - what else? - a lewd angel, whose only purpose seems to be to bring together has-been hack William Hurt and angel expert Andie MacDowell. It would be hard to devise worst casting: both Hurt and MacDowell are detached, remote, lowkey actors who need someone to play against; instead, all they get is Travolta's sleepwalking. Inevitably, just as you're settling nicely into your nap, Travolta goes into one of his too-cool-to-dance dances, this time in a gin mill and a dirty mac. Back in the Seventies, he could at least be relied upon to wiggle around and twirl his jacket. Now, he just strikes tiresome hipper-thanthou poses.

Allison Anders's Grace of my Heart is half a good movie. My advice would be to leave when Matt Dillon shows up as the hippy-dippy, schizo-goofy presiding genius of a surf band called the Riptides (i.e., he's meant to be Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys). But up till then this picture glows with the director's own pleasure in her subject. Illeana Douglas plays a Carole Kinglike gal singer who comes to New York intending to be another Patti Page or Rosemary Clooney, only to find that it's 1958 and the bottom's dropped out of the female vocalist business. So instead she changes her name to Denise Waverley and becomes a songwriter in New York's fabled Brill Building, cranking out pop hits for thinly disguised approximations of the Shirelles and the Everly Brothers. It's a kind of update on those old biotuners in which Jose Ferrer pretended to be Sigmund Romberg or Cary Grant Cole Porter - or, even better, films like Lady, Be Good in which Ann Sothern and Robert Young played fictional songwriters who sat around pretending to write songs that had already been written by the Gershwins: `Oh, sweet and lovely, can it be true . …

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