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GUINEVERE(director/writer: Audrey Wells; cinematographer: Charles Minsky; editor: Dody Dorn; cast: Stephen Rea (Connie Fitzpatrick), Sarah Polley (Harper Sloane), Jean Smart (Deborah Sloane), Gina Gershon (Billie), Carrie Preston (Patty), Paul Dooley (Walter), Francis Guinan (Alan Sloane ), Sandra Oh (Cindy), Grace Una (April), Jasmine Guy (Linda), Emily Procter (Susan Sloane); Runtime: 104; Bandeira/Millennium; 1999)
“A totally unbelievable coming of age love story told from the female’s perspective.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A totally unbelievable coming of age love story told from the female’s perspective. It takes place in San Francisco and is about a bohemian photographer in his fifties, Connie (Rea), who exploits younger women who live with him while he teaches them to be artists. Connie meets a shy girl who’ll be 21 in a few months, Harper Sloane (Polley), at her sister’s wedding, where he is the wedding photographer. She feels awkward being there and the photographer does his best to make her feel at ease. She tells him that she does not want her photo taken, which gives him an opening to gain her confidence as he does not include her picture in the wedding photo.

At Connie’s studio apartment, Harper picks up the wedding photo of her he saved and he signs it ‘to my Guinevere.’ Connie sweet talks Harper, calling her Guinevere (for some inexplicable reason he calls all his lovers that), and finds that she is vulnerable and dying for romantic attention. Harper is very unhappy in her affluent but chilly household of lawyers where she is expected to follow suit and go to Harvard law school, a school she has been accepted to but tells her parents that she was rejected. Dad is a lawyer, her older sister and her sister’s husband are also lawyers.

It’s unbelievable that her parents will not catch this lie and it is even more unbelievable her moving in with the photographer but telling her parents she is living with her girlfriend Patty, without them checking this out. It is especially unbelievable, since her parents are lawyers and what they do best is uncover things like this.

Harper’s brief romance with Connie, for less than a year, helps her overcome her inadequacies and gives her a chance to sexually develop. Connie has a history of being with young girls he trained by his live-in arrangement method. Harper meets his other girls sees that they also have photos taken of their breasts and she becomes friendly with them, sharing experiences with them. Everything about these girl-to-girl conversations seemed forced. Gina Gershon, in a very slight part, is the one who distinguishes herself most from Connie’s other flames by being Harper’s closest confidante.

The most praiseworthy scene takes place some sixty minutes into the film,when Mrs. Deborah Sloane (Jean Smart) appears in the lovebird’s nest. Mrs. Sloane is an elegant, articulate woman, in her forties, who is not afraid to tell Connie what she thinks of him. She does not make a loud scene, but by behaving lawyer-like presents her case against him. Mrs. Sloane tells Connie:”You’re even older than me, and you’re f*cking my daughter.” She also adds, “that no woman who is not physically perfect would dare show her flesh to the experienced eyes of Connie.” And she then comes to her main point, “I know exactly what my daughter has that I haven’t got. It is — Awe.” Connie-whose reaction is of visible hurt, replies, “You’re quite a woman, Deborah.” But she puts him down with: “Mrs. Sloane. I am Mrs. Sloane,” and she departs. This simple truth hurts the photographer’s pride significantly.

The movie drags on for an excruciatingly embarrassing forty more minutes, until it predictably shows Harper overcoming her problems of feeling inadequate.

The film heads down a road of cornball contrivances, that kill any chance for this story to be taken seriously. Connie has to be hospitalized for detoxification, and he also becomes broke. Therefore, the couple drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles where he hopes to sell some of his pictures. Sadly, Connie is reduced to getting a handout from an old friend. Then in a restaurant he loses some false teeth while eating and to pay the dentist they pawn his Nikon camera. While staying in a motel room, he sends out Harper to buy liquor and leaves her there with enough money to get back to San Francisco, too humiliated to face her again.

Four years later Harper is now a successful photographer and returns to see the dying Connie, whom she always had a kind opinion of, joining the four other Guineveres who are heaping praise on their soon to be departed lover and guru in a fantasy death scene that is sickeningly pointless.

It was very difficult to watch these talented performers saying all this soap opera mush, which trivialized what could have been an interesting film about a young woman learning to become a woman through sex if in the hands of a more capable director/screenwriter. Polley is a fine actress, and her performance when first encountering sex is one of nervous apprehension and childish giggles. It was the only thing about this film that felt real, of a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality and waking up to all the possibilities that she was a woman. But that brief scene, as powerful as it was, was not enough to save this mawkish film.


Dennis Schwartz: ” Ozus’ World Movie Reviews “