A study of two marriages generates little light and even less heat.
Thursday, February 12, 1998
Few filmmakers have traversed such varied cinematic terrain as director Alan Rudolph, who has alternated between mainstream commercial releases like the sci-fi thriller Endangered Species and suspense drama Mortal Thoughts, to such mainstays of independent cinema like Choose Me and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
Withthe release of Afterglow, Rudolph returns to his independent ways with a romantic comedy/drama that looks at two married couples and their struggle to salvage some spark of passion in their moribund relationships.
Julie Christie and Nick Nolte star as Phyllis and Lucky Mann, a rather unlikely couple whose faltering marriage survives solely through force of habit and a kind of weary resignation.
Where Phyllis spends her afternoons in boozy reverie and agonizing over her husband''s meaningless betrayals, Lucky, a handyman par excellence, spends his days servicing all kinds of household problems, including lonely houswives.
While Lucky tries to maintain a degree of equanimity regarding his relationship with Phyllis, neither one can fully overcome the drunken indiscretion by Phyllis that is at the core of their disintegrated relationship.
It is only after Lucky becomes involved with a young, neglected housewife (Lara Flynn Boyle) whose husband is absorbed by work, (and a strange fascination with suicide and middle-aged women) does an odd chain of events lead to a chance for both couples to reinvigorate their marriages.
Afterglow highlights both the best and worst aspects of Rudolph''s "independent" sensibilities. Few moviegoing experiences are more enervating than watching sophisticated and articulate people in the self-pitying throes of emotional anguish, of which there is no shortage in Afterglow.
What ultimately redeems the film are the fine performances by Christie and Nolte, and the lovely, arcing symmetry that Rudolph traces between the two couple''s relationships. The final third of the film is especially effective as Rudolph modulates between sex farce and an especially touching, hopeful resolution of the Manns'' troubled relationship.
Afterglow is ultimately the kind of film moviegoers will love or hate depending on the degree to which it reflects certain realities about their own relationships, and whether they buy into the cinema verit pretensions of Rudolph''s brand of independent filmmaking.