1988, Lawrence Kasdan
Lawrence Kasdan was one of those vanilla ’80s directors who quickly faded into obscurity once the American independent movement hit in the ’90s and audiences began to hunger for things with more edge and bite than his particular brand of filmmaking delivered. Still, when compared to the more banal filmmakers of the time such as Rob Reiner and James L. Brooks, Kasdan is the one of the group who at least presented a few films that I found myself fond of. Yes, his work is rather pedestrian and certainly doesn’t leave you with much once the credits roll, but he had a knack for selecting strong actors to portray these deceptively morose characters he constructed.
The Accidental Tourist is based on a book by Anne Tyler, and was written for the screen by Frank Galati and Kasdan. Possibly the finest actor of this particular decade, William Hurt, stars as Macon Leary, a writer of travel guides who is rattled by the death of his young son and his wife’s decision to leave him. He tries to continue on with his life, moving in with his anti-social brothers and sister, while also striking up a kinship with a local dog trainer, played with tremendous life by the beautiful Geena Davis (in an Oscar-winning role).
In dictating his tips for the reluctant traveler to the audience, the script uses a voiceover structure that has Leary describing to us the contents of his book while we see quickly edited montages of him on his trips. This kind of “guide for the traveling loner” approach felt very similar to the Jason Reitman’s recent film Up in the Air, almost to a point where it kind of felt like he ripped off Kasdan’s style in some ways. It was a solid way of setting up the reclusive character of Leary, so that when he is hesitant to give in to the romantic advances of Muriel Pritchett (Davis), it’s believable for an audience who has quickly come to know the character.
The Accidental Tourist moves along at a pace that’s a little too lackadaisical, but Hurt has always been a compelling presence for me and his internally anguished work here was enough to keep me interested through the more dry stretches of time. Him and Davis probably don’t have enough of a spark to believe them as a couple, but I think that serves the mindset of his character more than it works it against the overall effectiveness of the picture.
With Kasdan as a director this was never going to be a film that approached its heavy themes with enough darkness for it to really land as something memorable, but his more homey approach as a director still manages to be endearing enough at times for it to be an easy and softly emotional journey. Primarily, when it works it’s more due to the empathetic work from Hurt and the sunny demeanor of Davis more than anything else, but it all balances out in the end. Not a memorable picture, but not one that I regret watching either.
Film #249 of The 365 Film Challenge.
I guess I’m trying to catch up on some of the more popular ’90s films that I haven’t seen (after watching Misery a few days ago) so I saw this today and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting much since this didn’t seem like it would appeal to my general taste, but the chemistry between Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis has got to be some of the best I’ve seen on film. I adored that relationship and the constant shifting of the dynamics.
Sarandon and Davis worked so well together and really made me root for them. The balance of Davis wearing her excitement and liberation on her sleeve with Sarandon brooding in her pain and determination was a nice contrast and you could just tell how much fun the two of them had together. And that ending, I wish I hadn’t known about it before I watched the film because I probably wouldn’t have expected it at all.
I do have some complaints with the film overall; I think there are some scenes that are a little too silly for the gravity of their circumstances (the truck drive), everything with Keitel’s character was really flat and under-written despite getting way too much screentime and the whole “men are evil” thing came off a little too thick at times (again, the truck driver), but overall that relationship at the core was a thing of beauty and won me over in a big way. I also think there’s a little commentary on rape culture that speaks even more today than it did when the film was initially released and that was interesting to see.