Sunday, May 27, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 29 - LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (1998)

- Rated PG -13 for brief strong language, thematic elements and some sexual content.
- Starring John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Maury Chaykin
- Written and directed by Richard Kwietniowski
- Running time: 1hr 33min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

Remember Jason Priestley?  He was on a show in the 90's called BEVERLY HILLS 90210.  He was kind of a teen idol icon for awhile before he was forgotten about forever.  He never really made the transition from the tube to features though.  Besides CALENDAR GIRLS, he tried his hand in independent films like COLDBLOODED and this quiet little film. 

Sir John Hurt (if he's not knighted, than he ought to be because he's so bloody British) plays a hermit of an author named Giles De'Ath (pronounced "dee-oth").  He lives in England and is completely out of touch with the modern world.  In fact, he hasn't been out of the house in years.  On an impulse, he buys a ticket to the cinema and accidentally walks into the wrong movie (an awful juvenile frat boy comedy).  As he is about to exit the theater, one of the actors in the film catches his eye.  He sits back down, and even though the young man is not a good actor, he is somehow intrigued by him. 

Giles finds out that the actor is Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley).  Up until then, his life has been meaningless, but he ends up becoming obsessed with Ronnie, cutting out pics from teeny bopper magazines and renting all his films.  Eventually, the love struck author travels to Long Island to find him, meeting his girlfriend first.  He charms his way into their lives, not confessing his true reason for being there, as he tells him that he is a writer interested in making a vehicle for Ronnie.  The 2 men become friends, but how long will Giles keep his secret. 

It's an offbeat premise to be sure, and if this was handled by a mainstream Hollywood studio, this probably would have been a broad comedy in the same vein as IN & OUT.  But instead, it's a quiet, low key character study.  To put it bluntly, this is John Hurt's film.  His Giles De'Ath is unforgettable.  He has no clue how to function in society and it was sort of fascinating to see him discover what a video tape is, or when he goes to the microwave section looking for a video player.  Hurt gives a tremendous performance, nailing all of the character's many emotions he goes through. 

Unfortunately, Hurt is so good that almost everyone around him pales in comparison.  Priestley just doesn't have the acting chops to play in the same scenes with him.  Not that Priestley is a terrible actor, it's just that Hurt is on a completely different level here and it becomes distracting.  The only actor that fares well with Hurt is Maury Chaykin as a restaurant owner.  The small bit part actors were also distractingly self conscious.  They felt like "actors", not characters.  John Hurt was so real, but everyone else was so phony. 

This was frustrating to me because the script is pretty good, and has some amusing satirical jabs at Hollywood films.  There are a few fake movies that Ronnie stars in that made me chuckle.  They poke with great fun at mainstream cinema.  But finale seems a bit rushed, and some characters did things that I didn't buy. 

If you love John Hurt, then you'll probably want to give this a look, cause he gives a terrific performance here.  I just wish writer/director Richard Kwietniowski would've cared about all the other characters and story elements just as much as he cared about Giles De'Ath. 

**1/2 (out of ****)

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