SUNDAY(director: Jonathan Nossiter; screenwriter: James Lasdun; cinematographers: Michael Barrow/John Foster; editor: Madeleine Gavin; cast: David Suchet (Oliver/Matthew Delacorta), Lisa Harrow (Madeleine Vesey), Jared Harris (Ray), Larry Pine (Ben Vesey); Runtime: 92; Cinepix Film Properties; 1997)
“A very human and emotional story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One blistery, cold winter morning in Queens, New York, a middle-aged man, Oliver (David), dressed in a rumpled brown suit, who was cut by IBM as they downsized, leaves a homeless shelter to spend the day walking around that part of town. He knows that he has to return before 7 p.m. or he gets locked out of the shelter. Suddenly a woman in her early fifties and with a British accent whom we later learn is named Madeleine (Lisa) shouts out that he is staring at her, and then asks “Aren’t you Matthew Delacorta, the director?” She further says “I tried out for a part in your film in London.” Oliver goes along with the mistaken identity and goes with this has-been actress, who can’t get respectable parts in films anymore because of her age, to a Greek diner. They spend the day together and become lovers out of a sheer desire to overcome their loneliness and the dissatisfaction and fear that life has brought them. This is a one-day fling based solely on a case of mistaken identity. After the deception becomes unraveled and her anger subsides, she goes on with her conventional and unhappy life. But they, at least, had found one day of gentleness.
This could have been a great picture: it had everything in place to be great, such as a great idea for a story and two of the finest acting performances you can ever want. But… it wasn’t a great film because the story fell apart.
What is right about this film before it collapsed is that the story of the lovers, if we can really call them that, is meaningful; it stays with you, its power goes beyond the time you spend watching it unfold onscreen. I thought about them for days afterwards, wondering how easy it is to lose track of things and find out that all your desires and dreams fell through and that you are left in a hopeless state. And by getting older in a society that is youth oriented, finding yourself tossed aside as unwanted scrap heap, is a very difficult psychological thing for one to reconcile. Obviously, some do it better than others.
Oliver had no outside support, which might be the reason he hit the bottom financially, winding up in a spot he will have a great deal of trouble digging out from under as he tries to find himself. And, Madeleine, is also stuck, separated from a husband (Larry Pine) she does not love. He is always snooping around, trying to win her back with his obsessive behavior, leaving a bad taste in her mouth. Madeleine’s self-esteem is at a very low level when we see her: as she feels trapped without love and without fulfilling her needs. The problem of getting older and losing her sex appeal gnaws at Madeleine as she blames others for her troubles, for being stuck in a God forsaken place like Queens. Madeleine is not satisfied that she lives with her sweet adopted Korean daughter in a private house and seems to be materially well-provided for. This part of the film is very emotionally moving and very well-presented.
What goes wrong is that it starts to go off in too many other directions, which ruins the film’s rhythm. For instance, it offers a vibrant look at a homeless shelter and brings one of the homeless men to life, Ray (Jared), giving his character a certain appeal that an entire film could be based on. But to make the homeless issue as a subplot and make it so much a part to this film, does not do justice to the more essential romantic story line. Its pace of story is different than David and Madeleine’s odyssey.
The main focus of the film should have been on Oliver and Madeleine’s relationship. This would have added more insight into the reasons for their demise, and have given us more of a hint of how they will act when the picture concludes. It would have served the film better if it didn’t become so arty and give us so many unimportant shots of lobsters and of Queens.
This is a very human and emotional story, but it’s a story that is almost completely overshadowed by the director’s bad instincts that almost completely supplant so much of his good instincts.
Ultimately what the film offers is contrasting perceptions of what is real and what is illusionary, as it bolsters the sense of what ills misfortune can bring to one’s self-perception.
REVIEWED ON 3/12/99 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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