Film

SONS AND LOVERS

Young men cope with sex, drugs and grief—and the legacy of famous parents

Brian D. Johnson October 7 2002
Film

SONS AND LOVERS

Young men cope with sex, drugs and grief—and the legacy of famous parents

Brian D. Johnson October 7 2002

SONS AND LOVERS

Film

Young men cope with sex, drugs and grief—and the legacy of famous parents

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

IN AMERICA these days, there’s still nothing more seductive than grief. And with its usual blind instinct, Hollywood has once again pinned the tail on the Zeitgeist. Two of the most mature, emotionally satisfying studio pictures you will see this fall— Moonlight Mile and Igby Goes Down—are both comic dramas of awkward young men sorting out sex and grief while trying to escape the yoke of parental expectations. Both films also feature Susan Sarandon, who seems to be turning into everyone’s favourite mother.

Moonlight Mile is set in 70s small-town New England. Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), finds himself living with the parents of his fiancée, who has been murdered in a random shooting. Valiantly, he tries to please his would-be in-laws, the browbeaten Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and the outspoken JoJo (Sarandon). Ben, a commercial realtor, coaxes Joe into the family business, which involves buying up Main Street. But Joe’s loyalties are strained when he falls for Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), a young spitfire who works at a vintage tavern that’s in the way of Ben’s real estate scheme. Like Joe, she’s in mourning—for a man missing in action in Vietnam.

With its sheen of period nostalgia, the tongue-and-groove plot fits together a bit too neatly. And Moonlight Mile is clearly derivative of The Graduate. Gyllenhaal reminds us of the young Dustin in the role of the shy, bewildered Benjamin, while Hoffman now stands on the other side of the generational fence—as an entrepreneur whose mantra is “real estate” rather than “plastics.” But that resonance also gives the comedy some ironic ballast. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a slice of boomer heaven. Gyllenhaal’s acting is note-perfect. And even if Sarandon and Hoffman at times overplay their bickering affection, they make a priceless couple. You can also sense an emotional veracity at the heart of this film—perhaps because writer-director Brad Silberling, like Joe,

lost his fiancée to a lunatic gunman.

Igby Goes Down is a less conventional movie, with a more rebellious protagonist. Igby (Kieran Culkin) is a sarcastic 17year-old who’s at war with the privileged world of his parents. His mother, Mimi (Sarandon), a selfish, pill-popping tyrant, is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His father, Jason (Bill Pullman), has lost a battle with schizophrenia. And his older brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), is a young Republican snob. After being expelled from every prep school in sight, Igby goes on the lam in Manhattan, like a latter-day Holden Caulfield. Hiding out in a loft owned by his sleazy godfather (Jeff Goldblum), he ricochets between two older women with attitude—the godfather’s heroin-chic mistress (Amanda Peet) and a bored college student (Claire Danes).

Marking the feature debut of writerdirector Burr Steers, Igby is a black comedy with a subversive, original wit. At first it seems broadly cynical. But Culkin’s performance gathers unexpected momentum, and the humour eventually gives way

to a powerful undertow of emotion. This is a movie about sex, drugs and sorrow that assiduously avoids formula.

WITH Swept Away and Between Strangers, the crucial family connections are offscreen. Both involve sons of famous Italians. In Swept Away, a remake of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 tale of class-crossed lovers, Madonna stars opposite Adriano Giannini, who plays the role originated by his father, Giancarlo Giannini. As the Mediterranean fisherman who gets washed up on a desert island with a wealthy tourist, Adriano is a smouldering, charismatic presence. But as the rich bitch, Madonna makes the mistake of trying to act like one, instead of just playing herself She confuses acting with posing. And her husband, director Guy Ritchie, cheats the viewer by escaping into montage sequences when the abrasive romance finally ignites.

Between Strangers, an Italian-Canadian co-production, marks the feature directing debut of Sophia Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti. Set explicitly in Toronto, it’s a triptych about three emotionally wounded women played by Mira Sorvino, Deborah Kara Unger and a grey-haired, bravely unglamourous Loren. And it’s a disaster. Ponti’s pointless script and lethargic pacing make you realize just how far a mother will go for her son. But we can take solace in the fact that even an Italian can make a bad Canadian movie.