Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Audrey Wells

REVIEWED: 12-20-99

Cornelius (Connie) Fitzpatrick's brooding, dark eyes stared at the nubile nymph before him. Barely old enough to drive, but old enough to know better, Harper Sloane coyly dropped her head and fluttered with anticipating lust. As her corset grew tighter, she reached for Connie's wrinkled but wiser hand. He took it and pressed it to his mouth. Her fingertips slid into the opening of his white shirt while her bosoms. …

Okay, put this trash down. This is the Flyer, not Joan Collins. We like to think we write about better rubbish than that. But apparently Audrey Wells isn't as choosy about the films she directs. Guinevere is the second cinematic effort from Wells (the first being The Truth about Cats and Dogs) and her most Harlequin. Stephen Rea portrays Connie, an Irish bohemian with a penchant for pretty young things. Sarah Polley, most recently seen in Go, is the last Lolita in his long line of underage lovers. Humbert Humbert can eat his heart out. Connie has bedded a dozen or more women who could be his daughter, acting as a daddy figure to them all because — of course — they come from well-to-do but emotionally vacant homes. When five of Connie's hens from the past come home to roost, they discover that each one was not the only woman he plucked. And hardest to swallow — to each one of them he gave the nickname of Guinevere, the tragic mistress of Sir Lancelot.

Throughout most of the film, Polley as Harper Sloane suffocates under the oppressive dominance of her mother, an unhappy and stereotypical bourgeois mother. Actress Jean Smart is no Joan Crawford, but she pulls off the mommie dearest act without seeming too contrived. Although she suffers from many long table dinners of silence and subtle insults, during which her sister is spiteful and her father wishing he were somewhere else, it's hard to feel sorry for Harper. She's wealthy and she will likely attend Harvard Law School like the rest of the Sloane minions. Her sighs of "God, why must I be so misunderstood?" ring of Clueless exasperation, not genuine Menendez high-life peril. Why should it be earth-shattering and plot-worthy that this young woman is looking for a distraction in an older, so-called dangerous man?

Treated as a comedy, this film does work. When Connie calls Harper "Guinevere," she has already moved in with him and agreed to learn photography. She's constantly in awe of his knowledge. Her mouth slightly gapes at each quote he utters from Sartre and French philosopher Abelard as if she's auditioning for a Winter Fresh gum commercial. Of course, Connie seems more learned and more sophisticated. He's 30 years older than her and he's an artiste! An artiste who is weathered and jaded by life. Okay, so he's dead broke, a gambler, a heavy drinker, temperamental, and emotionally troubled; he's still pretty darn appealing to girls who have been told they are duty bound to hook up with a dud investment banker who wears sweater vests.

Connie is Fabio for every spoiled rich, sexually frustrated girl. The sweet irony — and this is where the dark laughter comes in if you can sit through Guinevere's endless clichés — is that Harper has run to someone else who does not teach her about life. Connie manipulates her just like everyone else did, only in a different way. But both lovers lose; Harper — like the other woman — will eventually leave Connie as Guinevere left King Arthur for Lancelot.

Although the film focuses on Connie and Harper's teacher/student relationship, an ensemble cast of women makes this a more entertaining film. While they are all beautiful, they are each far from perfect. They fall for Connie for similar reasons. Sans pasties, actress Gina Gershon plays Billie, the first woman who tells Harper that she is not unique. Harper is, she says, "not the first to be tutored." Despite Gershon's permanent pout, she doesn't overdramatize her moments with Harper. She acts with genuine concern rather than jealously toward Connie's latest prodigy. Jasmine Guy is Connie's first Guinevere, giving her character a steely resolve about her coming-of-age lover.

Guinevere doesn't appear low budget. Filmed mostly in Los Angeles, cinematographer Charles Minsky captured the city's combination of grit and glamour. In a final scene, when Connie has to beg for money and contemplates pawning his camera, Minsky allows the camera to drift in and out of a hotel room's dank shadows, intimating the fast-fading innocence of the lovers' May-to-December affair. Connie and Harper lie on a bed while Minksy angles his camera in a way that makes Connie appear physically and, in turn, more grown than Harper. Cleverly, Minsky turns his angle the other way, suggesting Harper has finally evolved into her own person.

And that's wonderful. When was the last time you heard someone talk about a film's cinematographer as if he were the star. The red carpet should be ripped from underneath everyone else's feet at Guinevere's premiere and laid down just for him. — Ashley Fantz

--Ashley Fantz

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