(director/writer: Tom DiCillo; cinematographer: Frank Prinzi; editor: Camilla Toniolo; cast: Matthew Modine (Joe), Catherine Keener (Mary), Daryl Hannah (Kelly), Maxwell Caulfield (Bob), Elizabeth Berkley (Tina), Marlo Thomas (Blair), Bridgette Wilson (Sahara), Christopher Lloyd (Ernst), Kathleen Turner (Dee Dee Taylor), Denis Leary (Doug), Steve Buscemi (Nick); Runtime: 105; Paramount Pictures; 1997)

“A fine looking but extremely lightweight satire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A fine looking but extremely lightweight satire from Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion, Box of Moonlight). The story is rife with unresolved issues it brings up just to be seemingly ironical but with not enough conviction or intensity to make something out of its mocking tone, as it tries attacking both the television and fashion industry.

Joe (Modine) is the actor/waiter, who is currently unemployed as an actor because he won’t do soaps and has set unrealistic goals for his career. He is the high-minded idealist and spokesman for the director’s views. One of his pet gripes seems to be in the hypocrisy of men’s and women’s behavior toward each other; such as, the double-standards maintained by them on sexual issues and in the way they model underwear differently.

There is also the film’s other major theme of characters who fool themselves into chasing after fool’s gold, deluding themselves into thinking they are happy with such worthless trophies. All the characters are seen as busy pursuing their goals to succeed in the image-oriented fashion industry, or in the cheesy video and TV soap opera markets of New York.

Unfortunately, the satire has little bite. DiCillo couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted to do, so the characters end up viewed as parodies of themselves. I’m sure no one in the “industry” is going to be too taken aback by this film’s attack on them. The audience will see a well-crafted film, that is pleasant to watch, but one with hardly any laughs to be had.

Joe is living with Mary (Keener), who happens to do the makeup for the beautiful model Sahara (Bridgette) — the perfect body and face of the Depression perfume ads. Sahara even sleeps under a framed poster of her Depression ad. She is vain and full of self-pity, dying her hair blonde, and pathetically searching for something spiritual and romantic in her life. Bob who is Joe’s actor friend and a fellow waiter, picks Sahara up in a bar. He has this thing for blondes; and, when he finds out that she is really not a blonde he treats her rather shabbily after a night of sex.

Mary and Joe are the only really nice people in this story, ever vocal about their personal desires after their six year live-in relationship has hit some rough spots. They are portrayed as being unfairly submerged in the fake world of ephemeral fame and false appearances. Their story is what is supposed to tug at our heartstrings and also make us laugh, as they try and handle all the obstacles they are up against. All that she wants him to do is get a job so that he can make real money and all he wants is for her to love him unconditionally.

Their romance is marked by secret psychological problems, sexual dissatisfaction, and open bitterness. This seems to make them out to be more real than Bob and Sahara; at least, in their eyes.

Bob and Sahara’s relationship is almost destroyed by their inability to be who they really are. Bob’s big disappointment comes when he has reached great heights in the career he has chosen. On the soap opera job he lands, his co-star is the real blonde, Kelly (Hannah). But at the time of his big sexual moment with her, he becomes impotent. Kelly will then dump him; he will get even with her, by getting her killed off the soap.

The story line followed Joe and Mary through some of their glittery NYC experiences. It succeeded in telling their side of the story. The only thing is that their story was not that different from those who were depicted as being superficial.

When Joe gets work through his agent (Turner) as a macho extra in a Madonna video, this was especially amusing because Joe had to betray all his lofty views just to get this vulgar job. He then loses it because he mouths off to an ignorant assistant director. Another great scene was how Mary had to fend off her judo teacher (Leary) from sexual advances, who is teaching her how to act when verbally or physically attacked in the street. She rids her feelings of hatred for men by pummeling the less-than-true instructor. She will also have the same sexual problem with her shrink (Buck Henry), who can’t stop telling her how much he is attracted to her.

The Real Blonde Poster