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HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS (director: Mira Nair; screenwriter: based on a play by Laura Cahill; cinematographer: Declan Quinn; editor: Kristina Boden; music: Lesley Barber; cast: Uma Thurman (Debby Miller), Gena Rowlands (Virginia Miller), Juliette Lewis (Beth), Justin Chambers (Rick), Ben Gazzara (Nick), Anthony DeSando (Bobby), Jolie Peters (Amber Autumn), Callie Thorne (Carolann); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher; HBO; 2002)
“Everything was as superficial as the forced New Jersey lowbrow accent Uma had.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lot of hysterics is made over not much of a story from this HBO made TV film. Woman director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) goes to bat for the unhappy and desperate women in her melodrama, but strikes out looking as if she couldn’t find the right pitch to hit. Ms. Nair never manages to say what isn’t obvious, so what we have is a tired story laden with clichés, contrivances and ordinariness. Ms. Nair also weakly presents her main characters as unsympathetic dummies, who come across as being flawed and more implausible than anything else. She tries to get laughs at their desperate gestures to snag a mate, but their actions are neither funny or serious. The characters were either too dim-witted to search within themselves for answers (the two miscast heroines, Uma Thurman & Juliette Lewis), or were so out of place in the story that the two classy veteran actors in those roles were stuck mouthing a banal dialogue that was hard to take seriously (the two miscast supporting actors, Gena Rowlands & Ben Gazzara). The two main characters seemed to be around only as puppet mouthpieces for the playwright, Laura Cahill, to go through her bitter riff about the hardship dumb chics have of meeting ordinary guys in working-class neighborhood bars. Uma Thurman is the central character, and it’s through her selfish and unaware overreactions to everything that we view the film.

Hysterical Blindness is about working-class women from Bayonne, New Jersey, who are searching for love and meaning in their life. One of the major problems this pic has outside the lame story itself, is that the two loser women who supposedly can’t hook up with guys are actually hot looking babes and in reality would have no trouble attracting their limited someone they seek. Therefore this story lacks credibility for the tale of woe that follows for Uma, and leaves the viewer not caring a darn about what happens to such a self-centered and empty dunderhead.

Deb Miller (Uma Thurman) works as a data-processor in the customer service department of a warehouse, and in the opening scene she tells her best friend and neighbor, Beth (Juliette Lewis), how she was taken blind while working on the computer at her workplace and recovered her sight while waiting for treatment in the hospital’s emergency room. The doctor told the neurotic and high-strung Deb that this temporary blindness was caused by stress and that she should learn how to relax.

The pivotal scene shows the gals going all out to dress up to fit into their local bar hangout, that features a jukebox and a pool table in the back. Beth is a single-mom high school dropout, who stayed home to raise her now precious junior high school-aged daughter Amber — the reason she quit school at 16. She could have married the father of her child, but her overbearing parents thought she was too young for marriage and decided to help her raise Amber. But now they retired and are living in Florida, while Beth hungers for a real man in her life but is still insecure about her lack of skills and ability to hold onto a man. Her eyes light up for Bobby, the friendly bartender. While Deb has a series of one night stands, and has such a low opinion of herself that she feels she can only attract a guy by giving good head or feeding him filet mignon. When an aloof construction worker comes into the bar, Rick (Chambers), she fantasizes that he’s her ideal mate. But the handsome, uncommunicative, sullen and cocky guy, acts like a complete jerk and doesn’t share the same romantic feelings. He ends up breaking her heart after having sex with her, and treats her as if she were a dog. In one of the film’s most outrageous lines, Uma optimistically tells her workplace girlfriends: “this romance is different — I didn’t just go out and f*ck some guy, I slept with him.”

There’s a tacked on corny romantic subplot of the lonely widow Nick (Gazzara) and Deb’s divorced mom Ginny (Rowlands), whom he picked up in the diner where she’s a waitress. These two have a mature romance going on based on feelings for each other, more than one based on sex. According to the director, that’s the ticket to an older working-class mom’s heart.

I have no idea where the filmmaker was going with this working-class women overwrought melodrama, but its bogus payoff didn’t convince me that the set-in-her-ways Uma Thurman character can change her dumb lifestyle. Everything was as superficial as the forced New Jersey lowbrow accent Uma had. The film dragged for 100 minutes showing the unpleasant Uma trying to deal with her failed life by overacting and acting obnoxious to her longtime best friend, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend, while in a degrading manner throwing herself on the Justin Chambers character who clearly has little use for her. The film ends on a material note — with a redecorated house used as a means to make the downtrodden Miller women, who live together, happy to be living again for another day. You can’t get more trivial than that, at least I don’t think you can.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”