Monday, February 10, 2014

In A Couple Of Seconds

No way that I’ll ever forget being jolted awake in the early morning hours of January 17, 1994 when the Northridge quake hit. Even though I was living in North Hollywood at the time, not that far from the epicenter, I was lucky as far as things went so just about the most interesting part of my own experience is that I had returned from an extremely cold and snowy visit back in New York, arriving to something considerably more treacherous as it turned out. Much of that week is a blur to me now and as these things go, because I’m very strange, one of my most vivid recollections is of what came about a few days later when I went to the movies in Westwood at the National Theater (I really miss that place—demolished in ’08 and maybe now destined to be remembered as ‘the theater in ZODIAC’) for opening night of the Richard Gere-Sharon Stone drama INTERSECTION. Actually, my recollections aren’t really that strong. I’m pretty sure I must have worked at my job in Brentwood (the Brown-Goldman murders less than five months away at that point) and then driven over to Westwood that evening. I don’t remember specifics. I don’t remember what I might have had for dinner or even if I got popcorn. I wish I did, just like I wish I’d kept other pieces of time in the brain to remember what I actually did on certain days back then but those things leave you as time goes on.
I do recall that the theater was surprisingly crowded and there was an unmistakable feel in the air of relaxation as if everyone was relieved and thinking, “We made it through the week, now let’s go see a movie.” And it probably didn’t even matter what that movie was, which considering the movie in question may have been just as well. Maybe some people there even expected as much—directed by Mark Rydell and originally scheduled for a Christmas release INTERSECTION had been pushed back to the dead of January, never a very good sign, and what we got to see that night pretty much confirmed those suspicions. Ultimately it didn’t do very well, coming in third that weekend, behind the long running MRS. DOUBTFIRE and PHILADELPHIA, winding up with a gross of $21 million. Revisiting the film now my reaction hasn’t changed all that much from what it was then and it’s not so much an outright bad film as simply one that doesn’t really connect. It ends with more of a shrug than any real emotional response but it is interesting to look at again as not only a reminder of what I went to see that night long ago as well but also as being a relic of the nineties when major studios were still making star vehicles like this. I suppose lots of films from the nineties are going to look like relics sooner or later. Maybe they are already.
Speeding along on a country road, successful architect Vincent Eastman (Richard Gere) is suddenly about to be involved in a multi-car collision. Seconds before impact, portions of his life flash before his eyes, much of it having to do with wife Sally (Sharon Stone) who he’s on the outs with and journalist Olivia Marshak (Lolita Davidovich) who he’s leaving her for. As he’s faced with the two woman coming together at the opening of one of his new buildings he’s faced with the choice between the two of them that he ultimately has to make so his life can move forward.
There are a few notable points about INTERSECTION but even those aren’t really all that interesting. One might be that it’s the rare Hollywood film shot in Vancouver that actually says it’s Vancouver, not Seattle or elsewhere, and I’ll give it points for utilizing quite a bit of scenery in the areas surrounding the city. Additionally, the film is director Mark Rydell’s fourth collaboration with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, presumably after they met when Rydell acted in THE LONG GOODBYE (and if you haven’t seen their first, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, go and take care of that) and also features Sharon Stone right in the middle of her post-BASIC INSTINCT hot streak, presumably trying to play against type by taking the role of the unhappy wife instead of the flashier part of the other woman. But ultimately INTERSECTION (screenplay by David Rayfiel and Marshall Brickman based on the 1970 French film LES CHOSES DE LA VIE) is a movie where not very much happens, as indicated by the synopsis above, and even what does occur onscreen never has the metaphorical significance that the film clearly is going for.
There’s not much about it that I believe at all beyond being a movie where people have flashy movie jobs like architect and magazine columnist while wearing nice clothes and living in nice houses—the sort of people who wear expensive sweaters, although I’ll admit to being fond of the suit Richard Gere wears through the ‘present day’ portion of the flashback. It promises to be a high-powered drama about choices and fate as time moves forward and cherishing every moment but in spite of all the flash and promises it just turns out to be not much of anything, a 52 pick-up game of flashbacks divided between the present (mostly over the course of a single day before the accident) and various key events in the main character’s relationships with the two women, waffling about fully committing to Olivia, still somewhat attached to his wife, all meant to detail the path this man has taken but not much really connects. More than anything Gere’s architect seems like a guy who’s bored, unhappy because his wife chooses to answer the phone when they’re alone together, caught in a structure that is both annoying and ineffectual—a few flashbacks come past the point when they still seem necessary, so they come off as marking time while waiting for the accident to occur, and if you arranged everything in chronological order it wouldn’t be much more compelling either. None of these people do much of interest as they agonize through this drama, none of them warranting the film they’re the main characters of.
The blanks that get filled in aren’t enough, at least not enough to be satisfying. Stone’s Sally presumably turned him from the art student he once was into a successful architect who can make money in the business world she occupies, turning art into a commodity for rich people as part of their ‘corporation with a kid’ that their perfect marriage really is. There’s never much of a pulse, not even during the moments when characters are laughing about something so when Davidovich’s co-workers jokingly bow to her when she walks into a staff meeting it all just seems phony. Maybe the French version works better—maybe this is the sort of thing that works best in that language. The script seems to indicate that the other woman, the free spirit of the two, is supposed to be younger but the two women look roughly the same age anyway (Stone, who is presumably playing older, has only three years on Davidovich) so that element is lost. There are hints, intentionally or not, that things aren’t going to go much better with her and that her immaturity means he’s just going to wind up in the same place he started, like when she suggests going upstairs at a party to privately make love like he did once upon a time with his wife, but not enough is done with this and she’s too inconsistently written anyway. Much as the film is almost about its own flashback structure more than anything the story is still pretty thin and already feels like it’s reaching the climax at the hour mark but there are still more flashbacks to go (including a ridiculously ‘cute’ charades scene with Gere and Davidovich that has to be some sort of low point) as well as the business involving the accident and the visions of fantasy afterwards leading to the twist conclusion. The story wants to feel incomplete the way life is sometimes but instead just drifts off so when the credits roll there’s not a feel of the tragedy of it all so much as a shrug where you think, well, I guess that’s the whole thing. “That’s it?” Davidovich asks Gere when he describes his life, waiting for the horrible story that isn’t coming. “I must have missed something.” That’s all fine and everything. It’s perfectly believable, actually, but it doesn’t do us much good.
Nothing about INTERSECTION is really all that wrong but it just kind of drifts away in the end, not having very much impact at all. A few scenes connect briefly—Martin Landau talking about his dead wife, a post-separation Stone shooting down Gere immediately when he tries to say something nice to her. A waitress played by Suki Kaiser who serves Gere at a café asks aloud why they don’t all move to Arizona to get away from the Vancouver rain and I wonder what her story is since there’s not much else of interest to focus on. For that matter, since some of the scenes almost seem overly dramatic like a film being shot in a film a more compelling story might be a DAY FOR NIGHT style film about the making of this sort of film and what happens between the three leads. Now that’s a film I’d like to see. The big flashback scene where Gere breaks it off with Stone is pretty good all things considered, maybe even the best moment in the film and it all drifts off in a way that feels somewhat believable but the stifling feel of what leads to the eventual eruption here is emblematic of the film as well. Not enough is spoken, not enough is there. Not enough is anything, although the score by James Newton Howard features a fair amount of harmonica which is rather soothing in a 70s sort of way. Even Gere’s encounter with a little girl late in the film that’s meant to give him his ‘answer’ still doesn’t feel as emotional as it should although the way she says “Bye” to him when she leaves is awfully cute. The film means well and I can feel director Rydell trying to bring emotion to the agony the characters are all going through. Gere’s character buys an antique clock at an auction and repeated shots of a ball bearing moving through the specialized mechanisms indicating the passage of time and fate as if it’s somehow watching over everyone while waiting for him to make his big decision clearly are supposed to mean everything. But it doesn’t. You can’t stop what’s coming, went the line in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and that would seem to be part of the theme of INTERSECTION as well. But, really, the clod shouldn’t have been driving his vintage Mercedes so fast in the first place.
Some of that Vancouver area scenery is awfully nice, especially when Richard Gere endlessly drives around during the last half hour, I’ll give it that much. The age of Richard Gere’s character is my age so make me even more depressed than I already am, why don’t you. As for the performances, everyone somehow seems a little uneasy together in the frame too much of the time. Gere is playing the script so since the script is dreary, his character is dreary, spouting off things like “Norman, I loved the elevation!” to remind us that he’s a high-powered architect (based on some dialogue he’s apparently a famous architect, which is probably George Costanza’s dream) and constantly trying to remind us that he’s torn between these two women down to his very soul. Sharon Stone, trying to go full on Grace Kelly, maybe comes off best and her performance becomes more interesting the more I watch it, noticing elements she’s adding that allow her to bring shadings to this thinly written character. Lolita Davidovich has the right sort of energy but the erratic nature of her part means that there isn’t a full sense of life from the character almost as if she’s getting contradictory suggestions from either the script or the director so, again, it’s as if something is missing. Martin Landau has a nice scene early on but then disappears for most of the running time while Jennifer Morrison (billed here as Jenny Morrison) of the hit ABC series ONCE UPON A TIME plays the Eastman’s daughter. Incidentally, go and watch ONCE UPON A TIME.
If I told you that just as I was writing that last sentence Jennifer Morrison happened to walk by would you believe me? Probably not. But life is funny that way, causing your view of the world to sometimes be altered in just a couple of seconds, which is something I’ve realized many times in the past twenty years. To be honest, I’m trying to remember more details of that night at the National in Westwood but not much is coming to me, just like some of those days following the Northridge quake are now hazy to me as well. So much has changed since then. As for INTERSECTION, it’s a case of a film that only means something to me because of those distant memories that surround it. Which I suppose is what the film is about as well and while that film may not mean much of anything in the end I’m not sure if all that stuff surrounding it means anything either. But I do have those memories, cloudy as a few of them are. So they must mean something.


davecobb said...

I remember that morning well :)

Adam Ross said...

Very enjoyable review (especially the last paragraph), even if all I can remember about the movie is its trailer (still good, BTW). Maybe it's the kind of movie that only works as a trailer.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Ah yes, Dave, I imagine that you would.

And thanks for that, Adam, very glad you liked it. Come to think of it, it's really not a bad trailer at all...