Jonathan Kaufer was a prolific comedy prodigy just out of college, and in 1982, after rewriting "The Main Event" for Barbra Streisand, he was hired to write and direct a comedy, "Soup for One," that made him, at 24, the youngest director hired by a major studio at that time. In the years since, a generation of younger directors have made their splash, and Kaufer's resume is spotted with jobs ranging from acting in Henry Jaglom movies to directing episodes of HBO's "Dream On." In the years between his two features, Kaufer wrote a number of romantic comedies he would have been happy to direct. "But the studios kept folding when I turned in my scripts!" he says, laughing.
His unlikely return as a director, the smart and pungent drama "Bad Manners," is based on David Gilman's play, "Ghost in the Machine," which premiered at Steppenwolf in 1993. While there are contrivances and parallels that still reek of the stage, "Bad Manners," as directed by Kaufer and wittily acted by a quartet of terrific actors -- David Straitharn, Bonnie Bedelia, Saul Rubinek and Caroleen Feeney -- is a marvelous satire of academia, as well as a thoughtful exploration of the layers of deception and self-deception in any social transaction.
Four academics working through private intrigues and sexual tension and monstrous accusations? Did someone say "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Kaufer and Gilman's collaboration is marked by a level of compassion few would give Albee credit for. And with its delicate, suggestive visual style, brisk editing and performances that deepen as the story -- and dramatic heat -- proceeds, "Bad Manners" is the kind of intelligent, nuanced moviemaking that wrings the most out of what could have been deadly material. A terrific surprise.
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