Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

05 October 2014

Three with Goldie Hawn

I don't know what's been happening, but I've recently been catching a movie with an actor and then, without really intending to, watching a second (or third) movie with that actor.

Butterflies Are Free is mostly a silly little drama, and is obviously adapted (and not very much) from a play by the same name. There isn't much to say about this film except that Goldie Hawn is a delightful little nymph in it, the main actor (Edward Albert) is very attractive, and Eileen Heckart is pretty well near brilliant as the young man's mother. I should note, too, that the main character is blind, but that this disability is mainly understood through the (typical and tiresome) lens of metaphor. His blindness is a way of talking about living in the world on our own, without the supervision of parents, lovers, etc. Can you make it on your own? Yes. Yes, you can. As long as you don't freak out too much, and as long as you find a very cute white girl to love you. I am being dismissive. But it is easy to be dismissive about something so slight. In any case, if there is a reason to watch Butterflies Are Free, Eileen Heckart is that reason. Her performance is beautifully nuanced. She is initially a kind of stuffy, Helen Mirren type, who Heckart humanizes into a fascinatingly strong, compassionate character. It's enchanting to watch.

Best Friends is a rom-com with Hawn and Burt Reynolds that is completely and totally enjoyable. This comedy was written by Barry Levinson & Valerie Curtin and directed by Norman Jewison. I basically loved it, and in the processed remembered how much I love both of these actors. Reynolds gets a lot of flack for his off-screen behavior – frankly, I am taking him to task for a couple of things in my book manuscript – but as a performer, I just love him. He is so much fun, and plays the frustrated, exasperated straight man figure just perfectly, with a careful eye on how silly he knows he looks. He's delightful. This comedy, too, is really funny. A couple of Hollywood screenwriters, who have a great relationship, decide to get married and then to visit each of their parents' families in turn. Both interactions are hilarious, and as you can imagine, the relationship is tested by this return home to the nonsense from which each of them originally came. This is a complete farce, with a few sentimental messages about marriage and commitment thrown in, but it's never preachy, and even the girlfriend-with-the-baby character (who usually preaches wisdom and freaks the heroine out in these kinds of movies) gets drunk in the afternoon with Hawn's character and gives wise counsel rather than inciting terror.

And then there's Swing Shift, which is a Kurt Russell / Goldie Hawn feature about the Rosie-the-Riveter types who went to work during the Second World War. The film is a nostalgic piece of fluff for the most part, presenting the past in a kind of Barry Levinson-esque candied haze. But this film, too, has things to recommend it. Aside from the obvious hotness of Russell (as well as the sexy Ed Harris), this is a movie about cheating on your husband that doesn't spend a lot of time moralizing about how awful the cheating wife is. The cheating wife in this case (Hawn) figures out who she is by herself while her husband is away, and the film is much more interested in this discovery of subjectivity itself than it is in punishing or scolding the woman for her discoveries. Swing Shift was directed by Jonathan Demme, and it also possesses the particular brand of quirkiness that Demme was working on in the 1980s. I'm thinking of films like Married to the Mob and Melvin and Howard, that take a humorous perspective on human nature, while also understanding the difficulties and violences that daily life entails. Swing Shift is one of these 1980s Demme films that makes fun of its characters in a gentle, empathetic way, while also spending just a little more time than it knows it should focusing on how silly everything is. His films from this time period focus almost guiltily on the pleasure everyone is experiencing, even though they are well aware that we are talking about serious things. This makes the director's movies into the quirky, seemingly disjointed narratives that they are. But his movies are not disjointed at all. His films are of a piece, in fact. This quirky, nostalgic style runs through all of Demme's movies in the 1980s.