FILMS

Two exercises in style

From B-movie camp to stereotypical romance

Brian D. Johnson October 10 1994
FILMS

Two exercises in style

From B-movie camp to stereotypical romance

Brian D. Johnson October 10 1994

Two exercises in style

FILMS

From B-movie camp to stereotypical romance

ED WOOD Directed by Tim Burton

He has been called the worst director in Hollywood history—a claim in keeping with the hyperbole that fuelled his career. B-movie maker Ed Wood did not try to make bad movies, but he became very good at it. His Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is a classic of slapdash science fiction. Through that odd alchemy of pop culture, dreck has been transformed into kitsch, making Wood (who died in 1978) a cult legend. Now, director Tim Burton (Batman) pays tribute to the man with Ed Wood, an ironic yet affectionate portrait.

Filming in black and white, Burton mimics the cheesy style of his subject to create a biography in the form of a mock-’50s artifact. Johnny Depp plays Wood as a naïve, bighearted optimist, a cockeyed purveyor of the American Dream who likes dressing up in

women’s clothes—an obsession that becomes the subject of his first feature, Glen or Glenda. Scrambling to make movies on a shoestring, the star-struck Wood resurrects Bela Lugosi

(Martin Landau) from obscurity. The ailing, drug-addicted Lugosi becomes the sepulchral cornerstone of a bizarre troupe that includes TV horror queen Vampira (Lisa Marie) and Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson (George Steele). A mincing Bill Murray portrays gay camp-follower Bunny Breckinridge.

While Depp is likable, the movie’s heart and soul belong to Landau, who brings Lugosi back from the grave with a superb perfor-

mance. Skimming over Wood’s romances with two generic blondes— played by Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette—the story hinges on his devotion to Lugosi, which echoes Burton’s own relationship with horror legend Vincent Price. Ed Wood is funny, well-crafted and cute. As usual, Burton’s stylistic conceits wear thin, but for once that seems forgivable. Like a schlockmeister manqué, he has made a goodbad movie to call his own.

ONLY YOU

Directed by Norman Jewison

Most romantic comedy relies on a basic formula: a man and woman who are des-

tined for each other meet in unlikely circumstances and stumble their way to true love against ridiculous odds. The trick is to make the formula seem both fresh and warmly familiar. And Only You, the 26th movie directed by Canadian film-maker Norman Jewison, succeeds in doing just that—despite a cumbersome premise. Marisa Tomei plays Faith, a ditzy young woman who clings to an irrational belief in destiny. As a child, she asks a Ouija board about her romantic future, and it spells out the name Damon Bradley. Years later, and days before her wedding to a boring podiatrist, she intercepts a call from an old friend of her fiancé who is soon to board a flight for Venice. Just before hanging up, he introduces himself—-as Damon Bradley. Impulsively, Faith takes the next plane to Venice, with Kate (Bonnie Hunt), her sensible best friend and sisterin-law, reluctantly tagging along. A hectic chase takes them to Rome, where they meet a shoe salesman (Robert Downey Jr.), who an-

swers to the name Damon Bradley. Finally, the fun begins.

Early in the story, Faith looks up the Latin root of the word “destiny”—the verb destinare, meaning “to take a trail where the events are totally predetermined.” It could also define the experience of watching a formula movie, and at first that is exactly what Only You appears to be. Jewison is working with familiar ingredients. Like last year’s Sleepless in Seattle, his new film is a tale of two strangers meeting across a distance, one of them engaged to a hopelessly dull fiancé. And it, too, taps into a nostalgia for old-fashioned Hollywood romance, featuring clips from South Pacific just as Sleepless in Seattle

quoted An Affair to Remember. Jewison also pays shameless homage to his own romantic comedy hit Moonstruck (1987), with a story of a relentless suitor, dollops of Italian opera and more than one close-up of a pizza-pie moon filling the screen.

But as marriages go, Moonstruck meets Sleepless in Seattle is not so shabby. And just when it seems that the plot is set on a predictable course, the script (by newcomer Diane Drake) delivers a magnificent comic surprise. Much of the narrative hinges on the quicksilver character played by Downey, who is wonderfully light on his feet. With an agility reminiscent of his performance in Chaplin, he looks as if he is dying to break into a Fred Astaire dance number at any moment. Tomei is less captivating. She seems altogether too enamored of her own coquettish charm. Meanwhile, Hunt, undermining the cliché of the best friend, quietly steals the movie from her with a beautifully understated performance.

If nothing else, Only You unfolds as an irresistible travelogue through Italy. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist serves up gorgeous images of postcard settings that range from the hills of Tuscany to the cliffs of Positano. The result is a delightful confection, a fancy tartufo ice cream with a surprise inside. Reinventing a proven recipe with the grace of an old master, Jewison has recaptured the Moonstruck magic.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON