Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Audrey Wells

REVIEWED: 11-22-99

D: Audrey Wells; with Sarah Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean Smart, Gina Gershon, Carrie Preston, Emily Procter, Sandra Oh, Jasmine Guy. (R, 104 min.)

Talk about your movie clichés ... Have you heard the one about the older man and the younger woman? Do you think you've already seen that tired old formula more times than you can possibly stand in one lifetime? Or is it just the anima part of my brain talking? I mean, it's women who get, shall we say, the short end of things in this equation. Yet the model persists in the movies, as in real life. The movie Guinevere, however, takes this familiar cliché out for a spin, and finds there's still a lot of unexamined life left in the old chestnut. (In fact, part of what makes the May-to-December formula so tired and, ahem, hoary is that it passes before our eyes unquestioned: Sean Connery gets Catherine Zeta Jones; J. Howard Marshall gets Anna Nicole Smith.) The spin Guinevere gives to this story is telling it from the younger woman's perspective. As Harper (Polley), the story's lead, recounts in an opening voiceover: "If you're supposed to learn from your mistakes, then he's the best mistake I ever made." Because, of course things are rarely black and white. Harper gains much from her relationship with Connie (Rea), the older man in her life. He is her mentor as well as her lover ­ and when her needs outgrow his capacities, she moves on. The discovery of Connie's limitations in no way diminishes the emotional gifts he bestowed on her in the past. He comes into her life at the right moment, as she's searching for her own path in the wake of her college graduation and the expectations of her demanding family. Connie encourages the "artist" in Harper and allows her time and space in which to blossom. And blossom she does, until she outgrows the nurturing loam Connie provides. The twist on this story makes for interesting viewing, although the movie bogs down during several fuzzily romantic interludes. Polley (The Sweet Hereafter) and Rea (The Crying Game) are both well-cast: She perfectly captures the intelligence and inexperience of a young woman uncertain of her future, he exudes the kind of sexual allure and bohemian mindset that makes him irresistible to a girl on her way to selfhood. Guinevere marks the feature directing debut of writer-director Audrey Wells, who still shows more strength as a writer than as a director. As with her screenplay for The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Wells takes some old clichés about the sexes (in Truth, it was the conflict between beautiful and plain-looking women) turns them inside out. She succeeds to a certain degree, but she also relies on those formulas for her narrative architectures. She plays it both ways and, as already established, we all know who always gets the short end.

2.5 Stars

--Marjorie Baumgarten

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