Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Written by Callie Khouri. Photography, Sven Nykvist. Production design, Mel Bourne. Editing, Mia Goldman. Music, Hans Zimmer, Graham Preskett. Cast: Julia Roberts, Robert Duvall, Gena Rowlands, Kyra Sedgwick, Dennis Quaid. A Warners production. 106 minutes. Rated R ( language, adult themes)
"Something to Talk About" is the fifth title of this film. The original choice was "Saving Grace," a nice pun. But I remember this title from a nice, Capraesque 1986 comic sleeper with Tom Conti as a Pope. "Sisters" was the next choice. But why, since that was a 1973 Hitchcockian film by Brian De Palma ? "The Kings of Carolina" followed, sounding like something from the 1930s and 40s. "Game of Love," then "Power of Love" make no sense in the context of the film. All this seems to point to showbiz people without a sense of film history. There is a Grace (Julia Roberts) in "Something." She's the wife of Eddie (Dennis Quaid) her college boyfriend, now some sort of businessman. They have a nice young daughter, Caroline (Haley Aull). They do not seem unhappy, even though marital fatigue seems to have crept in and in Grace's case, listlessness.

She wanted to be a large animal veterinarian but got pregnant, married and settled for housewifery and the unenviable job of stable manager for Dad Wyly King (Robert Duvall) who raises and races horses. Mom Georgia (Gena Rowlands) is, in PC terms, a homemaker. If she has any other interests or functions, we are not told. Tart-tongued, unmarried sister Emma Rae (Kyra Sedgwick) lives in the family mansion. She seems to be bothered by something.

One day Grace sees from her car Eddie kissing a power-dressed blonde outside his workplace. The man's infidelities are soon confirmed. Grace leaves him, moves to the King ranch. Mom is of no help; Emma Rae's supports Grace by not mincing words about Eddie; Dad, something of a phallocrat, does not take this matter seriously and besides he thinks of a deal he has with Eddie's firm. The movie then gets into gender differences, relationships and jousts, as Grace ( the worm turning) becomes conscious that she is a person, not an appendage to a spouse.

This is the second produced script by Texas-born Callie Khouri, who was raised in Kentucky and was a drama mjor at Purdue University. Her 1991 scenario for "Thelma and Louise" brought her fame, prizes, and praise for her feminism. Like "T & L," the new work is a Women's Liberation picture about females victimized by males and having their potential and personality stifled. Unlike "T & L" it is in a minor, relatively subdued key, but with major exceptions. It is the many interspersed comic effects that really are the film's real raison d'etre. When I saw it, the gags regularly brought down the house.

Energetic Emma Rae knees in the groin the contrite, visiting Eddie -- in a toned-down equivalent of "Thelma and Louise"'s violent deeds. At a Charity League meeting Grace creates an uproar by asking the ladies which ones among them had slept (her expression is stronger) with Eddie. Reproached by Eddie for not fondling him or responding sexually the way she used to, she states : "I have orgasms every day, but it happens when you're out of the room." She cooks a meal during an armistice with Eddie and doctors up the food with an emetic strong enough to have the man hospitalized. It's broad, crowd-pleasing farcical stuff.

Somewhat subtler comedy, albeit clicheed, occurs when Rowlands learns from Grace that Duvall too had been unfaithful. Rowlands shuts him out of their house, which allows Duvall to do some very good acting/reacting, the best in a movie of adequate performances.

Pacing between the gags is often soggy, slackened by the plot going in more different directions than in most sitcoms. It is as if the writer felt that two or three threads were too thin to sustain the movie.

Padding that is irrelevant to Grace's story includes much ado about horses, with stubborn Duvall making the wrong equine decisions and irritating his trainers; young Caroline had only ridden ponies yet she enters a Grand Prix on a horse and -- absurdly -- wins; in telegraphed sequences (akin to some in "Thelma and Louise") Grace gets tipsy in a bar and almost goes to bed with a handsome, visiting horse-person. But he shows that he is a real gentleman.

The music is also of the padding type, too much, too loud, interfering with dialogue and story. The cinematographer, the great Swede Sven Nykvist, does all right, but cannot truly showcase his talent.

The setting is a vague part of the South. The location, nature or size of the town are unidentified. This unfocuses much of the satire, unlike, say, TV's "Designing Women." One of the tentative titles for this film "The Kings of Carolina," may or may not point to that state. It is typical of the movie's haziness.

Accents come and go. Unidentified or sketchily drawn are all the minor characters, like the old lady who suggested the "poisoning" of Eddie. We learn little about the major ones beyond what we see. Gena Rowlands has no personality until she slams the door on her husband, Kyra Sedgwick's repressed bitterness is unexplained. Dennis Quaid has an unappealing non-personality.

The script tries to compensate with obvious symbolic names. Duvall is doubly saddled with "Wyly" and the autocratic "King." Decisive Sedgwick, is called Emma Rae, which recalls the gutsy protagonist in "Norma Rae."

Rowlands, the wife and star of actor-director John Cassavetes, like her late husband has specialized in urban roles. Naming her Georgia does not ipso facto make her Carolinian, Georgian or Kentuckian. She was in "Once Around" the American debut of "Something"'s Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (the excellent Swedish "My Life as a Dog," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape") In some ways, Rowlands' part in Woody Allen's Igmar Bergman-ish "Another Woman," about a professional who takes stock of her life, prefigures Grace a little.

"Something" will not be remembered for its dubious psychology and sociology. I am sure that the mass appeal of its gags, the media's hoopla around Julia Roberts and the change from violent action flicks, will make it more successful than it deserves to be. For a time only, since, while "Something" is quite watchable, it won't go down in film history as even a minor cinematic event.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel