At the Movies
Directed by Henry Jaglom
At the Nickelodeon Cinema
ALWAYS IS A poor man's Annie Hall, giving us an ordinary man's meandering and never-ending journey through his existentialistic, and sometimes banal thoughts. We constantly get questions (never answers) on what life is all about, where happiness can be found, how meaningful relationships are nurtured and why we torture ourselves by asking such stupid questions.
Borrowing thematically and stylistically from Woody Allen's handiwork, Jaglom brings us a character that moralizes directly through the screen at the audience, one time at the beginning and then finally at the movie's end. We are also deluged with a variety of characters who keep searching for that elusive source of happiness they think is somewhere they are not.
But while Allen's high-budgeted films are smoothly polished with sophisticated humor which distracts us from the confusion that we feel in tackling his complex subject matters, Always includes many of the rough edges lacking in Allen's work, displaying a more realistic montage of human emotions and foibles. That leaves a more realistic picture through which we can examine ourselves, though a more reflective mirror isn't always what we want to look at and can be less entertaining.
Except for a few brief flashbacks, the action, which consists of several days of soul-searching and philosophical debate among friends, takes place during a single Fourth of July weekend. On Friday night, Dave (Henry Jaglom) and Judy (Patrice Townsend)--who are actually ex-spouses in real life--spend a peaceful, romantic dinner together, eating whitefish, sipping wine and kissing. Dave's sauteed seafood is the first meal that he has prepared in the course of their their five-year marriage and, ironically, it is concocted to celebrate their divorce.
During the meal, a notary comes over to the house to finalize the divorce, but watching the couple hold hands and make eyes at each other gives him a change of heart. He can't end the marriage of two such apparently happy people, so he offers to postpone his services until the following Monday, by which time he hopes the two will have changed their minds. The couple is left to spend the rest of the weekend together contemplating philosophic questions on life and happiness, trying to figure out whether to remain married along the way.
FROM THE OUTSET, we know that we will be left to contemplate the inexplicable actions of emotionally confused people. In the opening scene Dave looks into the camera and tells us that Judy, his wife of five years, came home one day two years ago and without warning said she was going to leave him. It wasn't that she didn't love Dave anymore, she just wanted to be really happy. Judy thought something was missing in her life, though she didn't know what it was or whether it existed at all. She just knew that she was going to try to find it.
Now, after being separated for two years, Judy and Dave are trying to deal with their confusion and their relationship by endlessly talking and thinking about it. One by one, several others enter the picture and invent their own ways of trying to cope. Judy's sister Peggy (Melissa Leo) spends her time smoking pot and sleeping around, creating her own perfect world within her head.
Maxwell (Jonathan Kaufer) gives what is probably the most understated performance of the year (now that we're in Oscar season) as Peggy's boyfriend who is attempting to live with his wild girlfriend and find contentment in his own quiet way. And as the "party philosopher" at the fourth of July barbecue gives the best performance by a character without a name since Christie Brinkley played "the girl in the red Ferrari" in National Lampoon's Vacation.
Always never really attempts to answer any of the questions it raises about relationships and emotional nirvana. For a couple of hours, we're back to mulling over those strange ideas we've been contemplating since adolescence: why does the only real happiness we ever experience happen so briefly that we can barely enjoy it? Can we be happy if we think about it? Can you really know someone? Are tomatoes fruits?