Screenplay : David Hare
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1989
Stars : Blair Brown (Lillian Hempel), Bruno Ganz (Raymond Forbes), Hugh Laurie (Colin), Billie Roche (Gerry), Camille Coduri (Mrs. Clark), Gary O'Brien (Mr. Clark), Bridget Fonda (Amy Hempel)
David Hare's Strapless is both cynical and poignant in its examination of the opening stages of romance. It is cynical because it suggests that some people are incapable of moving beyond that opening stage; it is poignant because it is often adept at invoking the wonderful euphoria of a blossoming relationship, especially between adults who have been there before.
The two central characters are middle-aged adults (which, in and of itself, is rare for a modern film about romance, most of which seem to think that no one over 28 falls in love) who meet by chance while on separate vacations in Europe. Lillian Hempel (Blair Brown) is an American doctor who has worked in England for the last 12 years. Having recently ended a long relationship, she is travelling alone when she meets Raymond Forbes (Bruno Ganz) in a church. Raymond is a suave, apparently wealthy businessman whose demeanor and poise suggest an impenetrable confidence. He knows every excuse Lillian will throw at him to avoid having lunch, almost as if he can read her mind.
Back in London, Raymond appears with the gift of a horse (Lillian mentioned over lunch that she likes horses). Lillian attempts to resist Raymond's casual, yet assured, advances, but eventually they are living together. Soon, despite her better judgements, Lillian decides to marry Raymond. And that is where everything unravels because she no longer needs to be pursued. "You've got me," she says, which turns out to be his cue that the romance is over. Raymond doesn't want to be in love; he wants to fall in love.
Writer/director Hare (who is also a successful playwright) shows how appearances can be deceiving, as it turns out that Lillian knows less about Raymond than she thought. When he finally disappears from her life--almost like an apparition vanishing into thin air--leaving her with his previously hidden debts, she finds herself having to bail him out financially. Yet, the manner in which Hare conceives of the story does not implicate Raymond as a bad man even though all evidence points to the contrary. In fact, Lillian, in a way, seems to find redemption in using all of her money to save Raymond from his debtors because it represents a commitment on her part that she had previously been unable to make.
As for Raymond, he remains something of an enigma, although it is made fairly clear at the end that he disappeared because of his inability to commit beyond the opening stages of romance--in his words, when "love is free." As played by Ganz, Raymond is a soft-spoken, mysterious man of great privacy. He seems to want to know everything about Lillian, but will offer very little about himself. Why Lillian falls in love with him is something of a mystery itself, although I suppose Hare wants us to believe that there is some unspoken aura around Raymond that draws her in.
In continuing its theme about commitment, Strapless also features a subplot involving Lillian's younger sister, Amy (Bridget Fonda), a twenty-something model who has vague notions of becoming a fashion designer, although her real pursuits seem to be little more than sleeping and sleeping around. When Amy becomes pregnant, Lillian throws a fit, accusing her of not being mature or committed. But, as the film progresses, Amy pulls herself together and becomes a confident, successful adult, while Lillian, in a way, regresses in her willfully throwing herself into the relationship with Raymond. When Amy accuses Raymond of being "a crook," Lillian attempts to defend him, but cannot come up with another word to describe him. The fact is, he is a crook, but at the same time, he isn't.
It is in this somewhat confused intersection of human understanding--the cynicism and the poignancy--that the ultimate meaning of Strapless lies. Unfortunately, it is hard to get out from the slow-moving, somewhat ponderous narrative. Hare has written and directed an art film that relishes its slow trajectory and heavy conversations. Every exchange between characters is loaded with significance, but little of it comes out because it is all so labored.
The performances are generally good, especially by Blair Brown in the lead role, but they have a hard time engaging us because, even though the story is ostensibly about the danger of letting oneself be overwhelmed by passion, there is precious little passion to be found. Despite the early scenes, which are good at portraying the mysterious rapture of fresh romance, the majority of the film confounds by holding the viewer at arm's length, never truly letting you in.
|Audio||Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements||Original theatrical trailer|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the image quality on Strapless is fantastic. The picture is sharp and clear with beautiful colors and a high level of detail (this is particularly evident during the opening scenes that take place in the church). Compression artifacts and distracting edge enhancement were nonexistent, although there was a small amount of dirt in a few scenes. Otherwise, this is a beautiful transfer.|
|The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural, which is, for the most part, more than adequate. The majority of the film is dialogue, all of which is clear and understandable. However, when the soundtrack encounters more complex sound mixings that involve overlapping sounds, such as a party scene or the ending that takes place at a fashion show, it becomes more strained and the background noise, which is often too loud, drowns out some of the dialogue.|
|The only supplement included is an original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1).|
©2000 James Kendrick