Gloria


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Gloria
directed by Sidney Lumet

JohnCassavetes' 1980 Gloria was easily that director's most conventionalfeature, and frankly, it wasn't very good?sort of a mobbed-up reworkingof the Japanese comic book Lone Wolf and Cub, in which a lone warriorprotects a child against legions of would-be assassins. It was a baldfaced bidfor commercial success. But it had grimy bits of life in it, a few dandy sequencesand a smashing lead performance by Cassavetes' wife and frequent leadinglady, Gena Rowlands.
Enter Sidney Lumet to finishthe job. That his remake of Gloria is a disaster shouldn't surpriseanybody; most recent films by Lumet have been disasters of one sort or another,as have most so-called serious pictures starring Sharon Stone. Still, the sheerincompetence of the film took me by surprise. Demi Moore movies aside?Ifile most of those under cartoons anyhow, along with their plasticized star?therehasn't been a big budget vehicle for an A-list actress this silly and boringsince, well, Lumet's A Stranger Among Us, which unleashed blowsy,big-bootied sexpot Melanie Griffith on a community of brooding Hasidim in Brooklyn.(I will always cherish Griffith's reaction when Eric Thal's theologystudent reads her an erotic passage in Hebrew; her face scrunches up in salaciousexcitement and she squeaks, "Why, yew li'l devil!") It reeks of Hollywood packaging,and the package stinks. If you didn't know it was made by the same guywho gave us Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Q&A,you'd think it was directed by a man who'd never seen a movie, muchless made one. It looks like it was shot on leftover 16 mm film stock that spentmost of the past two decades moldering in somebody's garage, and Lumetblocks the scenes with all the nervy intelligence of Ed Wood. It's a wonderthe actors don't accidentally bump into each other on camera; if they did,Lumet is so disconnected from the images that he probably wouldn't havecaught it in the editing room anyway. I've seen most of theactors before, and they're all capable of doing good work (including Stone).But this time they're pinned onscreen like butterflies mounted in a displaycase. They often deliver their lines with half-confused expressions, as if theyaren't sure what Lumet wants from them, or even what direction they'resupposed to be looking in. Jeremy Northam, who plays Stone's gangster ex,Kevin, is a Brit pretending to be a tough New Yorker, and like a lot of Britspretending to be tough New Yorkers he seems to have acquired his characterizationfrom Bowery Boys movies. He always appears to be chewing something. George C.Scott has a couple of scenes as a top mobster on whose mercies Gloria, a formerlover, hurls herself. Scott is one of the great stage and screen actors in Americanhistory, and his determination to keep working into his eighth decade on theplanet is truly inspiring, so it is with the appropriate amount of trepidationand awe that I implore him to please retire before he embarrasses himself further.He looks like he can hardly stand and breathe at the same time; even sittingon a park bench seems to take a lot out of him. And to judge from his apropos-of-nothingpauses, grimaces and eye-rolls, he either can't control his body languageany longer or isn't interested in trying. A stunning percentage ofthe actors share Scott's physical ineptitude. One of the first things theyteach actors in drama class is what to do with their hands during conversationsso as not to look nervous or untrained. This bunch appears to have forgottenthose basic lessons. They gesticulate and shrug and flex their fists and pattheir thighs like passengers on a cross-country bus waiting in line for therestroom. Stone is simply an embarrassment. Forget her Sally Struthers-on-All-In-The-Family accent; this woman hasforgotten how to act in the same frame with other performers?as opposedto acting at them. She flutters her hands and waves her arms and movesher head around as if doing a parody of a tough New York chick on SaturdayNight Live. When she kidnaps the orphaned little boy, Nicky Nunez (Jean-Luke Figueroa), to get back at Kevin for not appreciating the time she served toprotect him, she orders Kevin and his henchman to strip by bellowing, "Iwant all o' youse to take off ya clothes!" "I am not fackinga-round!" replies Kevin, who apparently grew up in the part of New YorkCity that contains Big Ben. The high school stage production of Serpicoproduced by the hero of Rushmore was more harrowing. The first sign that we'renot in Cassavetes territory anymore comes in the very first sequence, when Gloriagets out of a women's prison in Miami after serving three years for refusingto rat on Kevin. The prison authorities hand Gloria a striking black dress witha nearly open front held together by long brass fasteners?the thing shewas wearing when she got arrested. It's not the dress of a 40ish gun moll,it's the kind of dress an aerobicized movie star might wear to the Oscars. From the second you see Stone in her prison garb studying that gorgeous black dress, the movie goeslaughably wrong. Her face looks too pampered, her body too obsessively tonedand sculpted and, judging from her spectacularly teased tresses, this particularpenitentiary is equipped with a high-fashion hair salon. When the prison guardgives Gloria the dress, you can almost see two roads diverging. Go in one direction,and the realistic thing happens: Gloria tries on the skintight dress and afterthree years of sedentary living and fatty foods, it no longer fits. Go in thestupid movie direction and Gloria slips the dress on with no trouble. Guesswhich path Lumet chooses? Like William Goldman says,you gotta give the star everything. This film goes the extra mile, strugglingin vain to make Stone glamorously unglamorous?a contradiction in terms,but apparently a necessity if you want an A-list performer to topline your feature.Cassavetes' original didn't exactly make Rowlands look dumpy, butit somehow managed to keep her beauty and grooming within the outer limits ofrealism. When Rowlands' Gloria was on the run for her life, she lookedgreat because the character was a clotheshorse and a proud woman who carriedherself with a bit of swagger?not because she had an army of makeup peopletweezing and primping her between takes. Stone's makeup in this pictureis so elaborate?so much effort expended on behalf of a phony naturalisticlook?that it further falsifies a story that's contrived to begin with. Stone isn't the onlyperformer whose glamourpuss treatment ruins the mood. The mob accountant hasa Hollywood waiter haircut and sculpted eyebrows, and his wife, Nicky'smother, is played by Sarita Choudhury of Mississippi Masala, whose lush black hair, long legs and spectacular breasts do more to distract from the dramaof the massacre sequence than a phalanx of animated mice crooning, "WhatNow My Love" while pedaling itty bitty unicycles across the bottom of thescreen. For some reason, none ofthe individual aspects of this production match up. The obsessively controlledwardrobes, hair and makeup are at odds with the drab photography and sleep-inducinglydull compositions. The boring look of the film?which says, "It'sjust an ordinary day in New York," or "Just one story in the nakedcity," or perhaps, "Who gives a damn?"?contrasts bewilderinglywith Howard Shore's melancholy and sometimes touching strings-and-pianoscore. The massacre sequence in the beginning of the movie looks grim and fairlyrealistic, but you can't really take the violence seriously when the hitmanis character actor Mike Starr, who's played so many sweet galoots so convincinglythat it's hard to accept this glib, sadistic brute as anything but an arbitraryand unconvincing change of pace. If you're inclinedto give legendary filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, you'll assume thedrab, unimaginative style is a preparation for a realistic (or at least unglamorous)urban drama?a return to the 70s, when common wisdom held that you could have truth or beauty but rarely both, and many feature filmmakers consequentlyfavored gray or brown color schemes, medium shots and unfancy cutting. But remember,though Lumet's 70s classics were intentionally directed in an unflashy,quasi-documentary way, they looked beautiful and moved with wit and grace; rememberthe lyrical montage that opened Dog Day Afternoon, and the luminous nightphotography in Network and Serpico? Gloria, in contrast,looks like it was made by people who weren't paying attention to anything;people who just wanted to get through the experience and go home. The entireenterprise reeks of bad faith, bad ideas and desperation, which is doubtlesswhy it wasn't screened for critics and why, despite Stone's name recognitionand a suitably conscientious ad campaign by Columbia Pictures, it has earnedapproximately nine dollars and 78 cents. Maybe the actors' weird hand gesturesare a secret signal to the audience: Run while you still can.

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