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HURLYBURLY(director: Anthony Drazen; screenwriter: David Rabe; cinematographer: Gu Changwei; editor: Dylan Tichenor; cast: Sean Penn (Eddie), Kevin Spacey (Mickey), Robin Wright Penn (Darlene), Chazz Palminteri (Phil), Garry Shandling (Artie), Anna Paquin (Donna), Meg Ryan (Bonnie); Runtime: 122; Fine Line; 1998)
“This glib talk-fest is based on David Rabe’s 1984 misanthropic play…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This glib talk-fest is based on David Rabe’s 1984 misanthropic play about friends caught in the web of Hollywood hype. What comes through with flying colors after the two hours of its production is the brilliance of the magnificent ensemble cast, who are able to make the superficial lives they are portraying seem colorful and their story worth telling. Eddie (Sean Penn) is the hollow casting director who lives in a Hollywood Hills luxury condominium with his business partner Mickey (Kevin Spacey); Chazz Palminteri is cast as a second-rate actor and violently unstable ex-con; and, Artie (Shandling) is their sleazy friend, a big shot in a Hollywood studio who acts as their respected confidante.

Donna (Anna Paquin) is a vacuous teen-age hitchhiker that Artie brings back to their pad so that the boys could use her as a sex pet, and she in return gets a free place to sleep. Darlene (Robin Wright Penn) is the dispassionate sexual interest of Mickey, but the chilling love for Eddie. After dating Eddie, Darlene has sex with the suave Mickey who makes a pretentiously gallant gesture of returning her to Eddie — saying his friendship means more to him than she does. Bonnie (Meg Ryan) is the good-hearted stripper who freely has sex with those she wants to; one of her most inglorious moments she says, is when she had fellatio in a car while her 6-year-old daughter is in the backseat and her daughter is traumatized by what she sees. If the movie reaches a climax of any relevance it is because of her disastrous date with Phil, where he loses it and throws her out of a moving car.

The sex relationships are all disastrous and difficult to comprehend, as the film goes overboard on dumping on all the female leads leaving no room for them to be anything but the objects of the men’s failures and desires.

These four unlikable men indulge us with how they prey on the weak. Their constant need to talk and say nothing pursues them every moment of their day. Cell phone conversations and empty self-righteous discourses trying to explain what they are about and what trouble they are in continues seamlessly from scene to scene. These men are not just materialists and users of people, but are truly depraved human beings.

Eddie as the central figure of the story is probably the one who is the most out of it, either because of his heavy cocaine sniffing or his tremendous vanity or his inability to know the difference between what is real and what is false. When Artie brings the sex-crazed Donna to keep in his house as a CARE package he pounces on her, indifferent to her as he is with everyone else he knows. The only difference is, that when he is with his friends he pretends to listen.

Because of the sharp dialogue and the ability of the actors to get under the skin of their characters, this morbid look at humanity seems poignant. Its humor is in the form of sarcasm and scorn which is a mean-spirited way to look at others, though Mickey says he is flip not sarcastic. His retorts and dry comebacks are what he terms as examples of ‘flip humor’ used in the sense that we are all going under, so why be that serious about life! When Eddie asks him, “What kind of friendship is this?” He responds, “An adequate one.” He is the one who seems to be above the fray, never getting himself dirtied by the group.

The most significant relationship is between Eddie and Phil; it was also the oddest and the most sycophantic. Eddie’s closeness with Phil is based on lies and a false sense of need one has for the other. It is ruptured when Eddie finally tells him with cruel honesty, we need guys like you in Hollywood to make the bullshit look real. You’re expendable. You do not matter.

This is not a great drama as much as it is a black comedy that has great acting and intriguing dialogue. There are no breakthroughs in character that can explain misfits like these guys, who assume power positions and misuse the trust society has in them. Dominance and establishing their place in the pecking order is what motivates them. They compete against each other because of their jealousy and hatred of the other. Even a long lasting relationship between Eddie and Phil can’t be viewed as necessarily a sincere one. Mickey tries to tell Eddie this when he mentions how cold his relationship with Phil is. “Phil is very safe because no matter how far you manage to fall, Phil will be lower.”

As an interesting gesture to the media age of the 1980s, Drazen uses the TV images we view from the impulsive channel-changing of Eddie, showing how meaningless and bland everything seems on the screen: news, wars and football games are all manufactured as significant events by the media. But these events all meld into insignificance in one’s daily life, with no follow-up search for the truth. This is analogous to the lives of the male-bonding friends who make small gains upon seeing something about themselves reported by others, but fail to search inward to see what they really are all about.

This was a tough film to like and an even tougher film to hate. Its appeal is hypnotic, in the sense that we are overhearing conversations we shouldn’t be hearing but we can’t stop listening to them. If we met these types in our everyday world, more than likely, we couldn’t stand to be around them for too long. For two hours to see them on film is also too long. An 80-minute film, one that is made more mobile, taking away some of its staginess would have suited me just fine.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”