Archive for October 1, 2021

Love and Death on Long Island

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2021 by dcairns

I remembered director Frank Perry and writer Susan Isaacs’ comic murder mystery COMPROMISING POSITIONS (1985) being decent, and bemoaned its lack of availability in anything but a scuzzy VHS rip (open matte, so it can at least be cropped to the right aspect ratio). It doesn’t stand the test of time though. I don’t really believe that films date, per se: but what was always wrong stands out more sharply in time.

Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia are great together, though. As RJ gets more scenes the film starts to come to life. And I’m always happy when Joan Allen and Josh Mostel show up in something. Mary Beth Hurt, unfortunately, has been encouraged/permitted to play her part “sassy,” (ugh), with for some reason a Texan twang, stepping on all her quips very hard. This is the kind of dialogue you should throw away, because it’s not hilarious but could conceivably approximate the kind of wit regular people might toss off — so underplaying and naturalism would be your friend.

Frank Perry was attempting to bounce back from MOMMIE DEAREST and MONSIGNOR so it wouldn’t be surprising if his confidence had taken a hit and he was tempted to overcompensate. He does have able assistance from Barry Sonnenfeld: the compositions are good (once I got VLC to crop it correctly). The production and costume design are hideous, which I guess is deliberate, but the story isn’t really a satire of Long Islanders’ awful taste, so this seems like meaningless snark. Again, perhaps directorial anxiety is to blame. Rather than the horrified wonderment the decor of GOODFELLAS or MARRIED TO THE MOB inspire, each successive room simply makes you cringe.

This misjudgement extends, I feel, to the casting of Joe Mantegna as the inappropriately sexual dentist whose murder starts the story off. Maybe they just chose him because he’s a good actor, which he is, but his effect, being not a conventionally handsome human, is to add an extra, superfluous layer of creep to an already creepy character (pedodontist and paedophile). This guy is supposed to be a successful Lothario, so someone like Frank Langella (a Perry alumnus), who could give him a superficial, sleazy glamour, would have been wholly appropriate. Making him wholly repellent is another example of the movie slamming its fist down on the wrong button.

A great shame Sarandon and Julia didn’t get a better vehicle for their talents and chemistry — but a few years before, Paul Mazursky cast them both in TEMPEST, which I ought to see…