The Myth of Fingerprints

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Bart Freundlich

REVIEWED: 11-10-97

There are some theatre- and filmgoers who would walk across a freeway at five o'clock to hear Blythe Danner read a soup-can label from the median traffic barrier. Not only a superb actor, whose warmth and emotional instincts are matched by a wry intelligence, Danner is also a role model for middle age -- glamorous yet no-nonsense, both generous and shrewd; she seems to navigate her way through life with unostentatious moral incisiveness and a hyper-aware, yet somehow relaxed, sensitivity. Not to mention those eyes, that great ash-blonde hair, and the velvety rasp of one of the most alluring voices on stage or screen.

The affection and respect of her fans might well lead them into such odd venues because the fact is that Danner is, very sadly, hard to find. Other than in the occasional New York stage appearance (she has one Tony and has been thrice nominated) -- or at the Williamstown (Massachusetts) Summer Theatre Festival, where she reigns as an annual draw -- Danner may be enjoyed only infrequently. Woody Allen has coaxed her from time to time into his projects, and her interest in evolving talents leads her occasionally to small, independent films. Happily married to a successful network producer and mother of the fine young actor Gwyneth Paltrow, Danner is clearly undriven by her career.

One can only speculate as to why the spirit moved her to agree to appear in first-time writer/director Bart Freundlich's The Myth of Fingerprints. One is simply left to yearn to see her in something more compelling than a pretentious, derivative, rather precious drama about a family reunion at Thanksgiving. We may never know what Danner saw in the project, but she was not alone: Julianne Moore, Noah Wyle, Roy Scheider, Brian Kerwin, James LeGros, Michael Vartan, and Laurel Holloman also signed on. One can only assume that this roster is what got Fingerprints a world premiere at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. And perhaps they perceived something in Freundlich's potential that is not yet apparent. Anyone who can interest this lineup of talent in a "training-wheels" movie must have something.

However, all we get in this first effort is a rather painful waste of these adventurous and interesting actors. In the worst role of all, Scheider -- who is best when pushed away from type, in roles where his severe good looks are forced to break into joy or loquacity -- plays a dour, stone-faced Maine patriarch who is so petulant that we couldn't possibly care less about his cursorily indicated inner demons. It's like watching Roy Scheider do a parody of Roy Scheider. Danner is his curiously long-suffering wife. They are joined for an alternately cozy and strained Thanksgiving holiday by daughters Moore and Holloman and sons Wyle and Vartan, along with their significant others. Freundlich is no more skilled at handling the intimate ease of family humor when things are going well than he is with his portentously introduced flashbacks (or worse, expository dialogue) of the family skeletons. The Myth of Fingerprints seems equal parts bad Bergman, bad Chekhov, and bad TV Movie-of-the-Week; except for the odd moments of glory plucked out by an excellent cast, it's a fairly deadly brew.

Danner makes even her small, disconnected, underwritten scenes a cause for minor rejoicing. Although it seems a dire case of casting her pearls before swine, she can curve a vocal inflection unexpectedly at the last syllable or laugh almost gutturally after expressing some delicate sentiment, and, suddenly, this lifeless, self-serious little piece wakes up for a moment and sings. Students of acting should be made to watch this performance to see what a canny, feeling actor can do with next to nothing. Fans of Blythe Danner may take it as yet another of the crumbs for which we have learned, frustratingly, to settle.

--Hadley Hury

Full Length Reviews
The Myth of Fingerprints
The Myth of Fingerprints

Capsule Reviews
The Myth of Fingerprints
The Myth of Fingerprints

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