I Saw A Film!

How could you not love a film starring Beau Bridges, Jodie Foster, Natasha Kinski, Rob Lowe, the great Wallace Shawn as Sigmund Freud! (Inconceivable!) and Matt Modine in a couple of similar parts and based on a rambling Jonathan Irving novel that was clearly a lot of fun to write. There’s also some Wilford Brimley lifting weights.

The story revolves around the death of a beloved old dog that has been stuffed by gay brother Paul McCrane and keeps popping up and causing terrible issues with various family members, I’m just joking, but the stuffed mutt maintains a role something like a bottle of poison in a whodunnit. It is clear that the stuffing and maintaining as a surprise a beloved pet is a poor idea from the start, but this does not slow Irving’s pitch. Neither does the affair between siblings Lowe and Foster abate Irving’s flavor for off key romantic moments. Nor does the awful suicide of a much doted-on character of immature pretension, a cute little girl who writes a novel. But then there’s the bear costume worn by the woman who can’t bear to be human because she’s so ugly (yeah right, should have used Klaus for that Kinski role), and when the European Vacation aspect of the film kicks in, there’s even an anarchist group setting off bombs. One gets the feeling that death, rape and unusual coincidence coupled with celebrity and loosely knitted together in a kind of fishing net of surprises, without reverence, is enough for a massive block-buster of a film. Two years earlier, Irving’s Life According to Garp did very well launching young Robin Williams into serious acting roles, heck I remember that book circulating everywhere, but this one, while equally loaded with wonder and imagination, somehow fizzles in movie form around the baby-faced Lowe and butchish Foster getting it on . . .

I can imagine a young Wes Anderson seeing this and rubbing his chin with a certain knowledge of inspiration. What’s lacking here, present in films like Rushmore, Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tanenbaums, is the power of personality rich in Anderson’s characters that here ends up being left out for the roller coaster barrage of stuff just constantly happening to a handful of characters. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) had a similar feel, but, despite the downer ending, had a more adult and believable theme, also the setting was one of historical importance and Kundera obviously mined the events for his backdrop. Most of all though, the characters were much more lastingly touching.

But, compelling stories from Homer to Kurosawa can be remarkably busy, so my complaint here should be taken with a grain of salt. Plus, I do enjoy surprises, and Irving’s stories are at least generally of a “you can’t make this shit up” variety. So what exactly is the downside to The Hotel New Hampshire? It’s got great actors, lots happening, a story worth telling if a bit too obviously contrived to be alluring, and maybe that’s my trouble with it. This film just feels overly contrived to be of value. Most entertainment (unless it’s very close to a documentary) is, of course, contrived. But at some point the contrivances become obscenely multiplied, people are overcoming not only loss of fortune, and plane-crashed loved ones, and myriad other scars of misfortune, they’re continually depicted as somehow amused survivors in a giant Game of Thrones LARP. No one seems to be devastated by anything. And perhaps this is the difficulty of these imagined creatures who damage one another with aplomb and are somehow improved by their experiences-though, in terms of story-telling only the survivors really have a story.

I don’t know where to direct you on this bizarre film. It’s both tragic and so boldly weird as to be offensive. There are unusual race relation sequences, and incest that are treated like aperitifs. We are told to pass by the open windows, and my immediate thought was because we didn’t want to be caught climbing or peering inside, but I had missed the point. The point was to not jump out of them. In all it’s a bit like when the rockers dosed the Maharishi Yogi with LSD and the Yogi responded, “What else you got?”

This runs free on Prime and while quirky and very different in an almost Greek comic drama sense it fails somehow to be memorable or poignant.

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