Friday, August 4, 2017

THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1988) Warner Archive

In 1985, author Anne Tyler penned The Accidental Tourist, a much-lauded Pulitzer Prize nominee, deftly – if rather unassumingly – to mingle and toy with the miseries and contentment families, even of the socially defunct and fractured ilk, can provide to their emotionally scarred and/or wounded offspring. I defer here to that old cliché; something about being “a survivor of birth” as the follies and pitfalls of life are rarely averted or even sufficiently scaled to accommodate our needs – much less, our wants, desires, hopes and dreams. Tyler’s novel remains a concise, thoughtful and sharp-witted deconstruction of this straggling, yet concurrently informal isolationism. To some degree, we are all silent sufferers trapped within this social fabric; thus, Tyler’s readership is universal as it strikes precisely the right chords of unapologetic empathy and pathos. I am not entirely certain Lawrence Kasdan’s 1988 movie of the same name is deserving of as much high praise or even re-visitation. For although it was perfectly celebrated as a ‘one-of-a-kind movie’, with an Oscar-winning turn from Geena Davis as the avuncular and peculiar Muriel Pritchett, in retrospect the picture just seems too heavily embroiled in the particulars of Tyler’s book. Kasdan has quite simply forgotten movie translations often need something else – something more visually evolved – to make them click as they should.
As in the novel, we are introduced to travel writer, Macon Leary (a thoroughly leaden performance by William Hurt). Leary knows everything about packing up and leaving home, but regrettably little, if anything about coming home to maintain a life with his significant other, Sarah (Kathleen Turner) after the untimely death of their only son, Ethan in a fatal fast food restaurant robbery gone bad. The picture begins with a painful flashback, Macon recalling the horror of having to identify his son’s body in the IC unit, grief turned inward to a glacial resolve never to let the outside world in again. Macon has always been the Teutonic sort, but with Ethan’s death he has been transformed into a veritable block of granite, impenetrable and unreachable to all who know him. Macon’s entire life has been spent telling other people how to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty and for this he is revered by the travelling businessman who eats most of his meals in coach and spends more time telephoning from lonely hotel rooms than visiting the city sites. Sarah has had quite enough. Macon has shut her out of his grief and she, in turn has decided to move on and away from hers; yet another blow that causes Macon to burrow into a cocoon of uncomfortably numb and dead end confusion.
Even Macon’s publisher, Julian (Bill Pullman) has his misgivings as to whether or not his most profitable writer can move on. As fate would have it, Macon suffers a terrible sprain at home while trying to discipline the family dog, Edward (a precious corgi working through his own separation anxiety), and this, coupled with a fast approaching deadline to finish yet another installment of his popular ‘accidental tourist’ franchise, forces Macon to seek out the services of animal hospital manager and professional dog whisperer, Muriel Pritchett. Kasdan’s approach to their first cute meet is sustained and comical in unusual ways. Macon clearly thinks Muriel a nut job and says as much with his perplexed stares as he reluctantly hands Edward into her care. She immediately has him pegged as emotionally sterile, a real fixer-upper; even more ironically, good ‘father material’ for her own son, Alexander (Robert Gorman) and for whom only her unusual brand of mind-brewing/thought provoking conversational medicine can exact the necessary cure.
Alas, two aspects about their burgeoning relationship fail to gel; first, the screenplay, co-written by Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, concentrates too much on the ‘quirks’ and not enough on romance. Geena Davis’ Muriel is just plain odd. Personally, I think she is downright obtuse, bordering on unintentionally cruel as she repeatedly and rather pugnaciously jerks on Edward’s leash while making a clicking sound with her tongue and lips; supposedly, both to discipline and affirm his compliance to her commands; forcing an enfeebled Macon, on crutches in the rain no less, to attempt a similar exercise while she powders her nose and tells him about a client she had with no legs and only one arm who also happened to own a rather temperamental Great Dane. The dialogue herein is idiotically charming a la the classic screwball. But its execution is just matter-of-fact with listless ennui.  As for William Hurt’s Macon, he is far too insular and cut off to incur our empathy. Kasdan ought to have let us into Macon’s heart – just a little; perhaps in a hushed private moment where the audience is allowed to personally relate.  As this never occurs, we are left with an atypical ‘lover’s triangle’ where all three sides struggle to find meaning in their impossibly unfulfilled and foundering lives.
If Macon and Muriel seem an odd fit, the pieces to this ill-fitted puzzle are not brought any closer by our introduction to Macon’s sister, Rose (Amy Wright) who has adopted a rather bizarrely maternal streak toward their two elder brothers, Porter (David Ogden Stiers) and Charles (Ed Bagley Jr.); everyone still residing together in their ancestral home. After Macon’s accident, he decides to briefly move in with his siblings to convalesce; a decision that breaks into their ensconced routines and leads to some prying revelations about his marriage. Julian finds Rose captivating and vice versa. Yet, at every turn Macon and his brothers attempt to quash their romantic yearnings. Rose is emotionally fragile. But Julian is quite unwilling to surrender his passion for her. Eventually, his positive spirit rubs off and Rose stands up to her brothers, announcing she and Julian are engaged. Meanwhile, Macon has become quite involved with Muriel, playing weekend daddy to her son.
In truth, Muriel is exactly the sort of women Macon needs to drag him back from the brink of his apocalyptic and enveloping gloom. Alas, at Rose and Julian’s wedding, Sarah makes a play to get her husband back. Even more ridiculous, Macon seriously considers it. This leads the usually confident Muriel to suddenly plead for him to remain at her side. Fate and another travel assignment intervene. Macon is off to Paris to cover the beat and write another ‘accidental tourist’ book.  On nothing more than an impromptu whim, Muriel surprises Macon by showing up at his hotel unannounced, suggesting the two can take his ‘assignment’ and turn it into a romantic holiday. More than a little put off by her stalk-ish sincerity (it does seem a tad too clingy and demanding, particularly for a man as expressively stifled) Macon refuses to entertain the notion or even share his accommodations. Kismet intrudes yet again. Macon throws his back out. Incapacitated and bedridden, he is surprised when Sarah also turns up at his hotel suite. However, unlike Muriel, Sarah is allowed to re-enter his life to care for him. After all, the two have a history together; one, discussed at some length and with grave tenderness.  
Sarah is uncharacteristically patient and Macon confides it was not anything she did after Ethan’s death that made him turn away from their life together. All well and good, except Sarah now prods Macon to discuss his relationship with Muriel. This he absolutely refuses to do. Meanwhile, dejected and believing she has lost him forever, Muriel packs for her return to America. But Macon has had a change of heart. After one last fling, Macon stirs Sarah at sunrise and quietly informs her he has decided to go back to Muriel. It is time to move on and they both know it. On the way to the airport, Macon spots Muriel attempting to hail a taxi. He tells his driver to stop. Believing the taxi stopped for her, Muriel bends down to open the door, startled to catch a glimpse of Macon smiling at her from the backseat. She returns his smile and the screen fades to black.
There is no getting around the unsettling peculiarity that pervades The Accidental Tourist from main titles to end credits. Kasdan and Galati’s approach to the oft clichéd quest of finding love the second time around is anything but conventional. And yet, it is not altogether refreshing either. Geena Davis’ Muriel is wacky. That is part of her ‘charm’, and yet it does not immediately translate as much or ingratiate us to her character. Muriel Pritchett is like the rash we are grateful to discover is not flesh-eating bacteria. The Kasdan/Galati screenplay generally recognizes how and when to parcel off her antics, occasionally counterbalanced by an undercurrent of possessive seriousness, as when she bluntly tells her indecisive lover, “Don’t make promises to my son you are not prepared to keep!” This ought to be a powerful declaration of Muriel’s love for Macon. But it just comes across as threatening and vial; angling and exploiting her child as bait, both manipulative and cruel. And Macon, very slow learner that he is, does not see at first that Muriel means business. Will it be a happy alliance in the end? Hmmm. Let us say it will likely be an interesting one. And Macon definitely needs someone of ‘interest’ to take an interest in him.
Like Muriel, The Accidental Tourist feels a bit as though it should be digested in very small doses. Part of the problem with the picture is the characters inhabiting this cinematic landscape are not ‘entertaining’ per say, but rather dour and dark; prone to malice rather than kindness to get their way. Certainly, The Accidental Tourist is not a rom/com like any other you might have seen. But it loses steam and potency because it dares to depart much too radically from the formulaic ‘boy meets girl’ main staple Hollywood has so aggressively cultivated since giving birth to the genre. Porter, Charles’ and Macon’s initial reaction to Rose’s one chance at happiness with Julian is very mean-spirited. They would have her remain dowdy and alone, if only to continue having their meals prepared for them and their laundry washed and ironed. And Rose’s initial reaction after marriage – to return home momentarily, thereupon sacrificing her happiness and endangering the newlywed status with her husband – speaks to a sort of subtle abusiveness that has made Rose emotionally careworn and afraid of venturing out on her own. She can only function if maternal warmth is needed. Thus Macon, recognizing Julian’s love for his sister, involves him in a plot to lure her into his publishing house as a secretary he desperately needs (not really) to put his affairs in order.
The tone and dialogue of Anne Tyler’s novel are paralleled almost verbatim in the movie. But somehow she was able to find the soft-centered core of these awkward misfits and break it into digestible nuggets of wisdom and understanding of basic human frailties met with compassion. Regrettably, the movie never veers into this territory with any lasting success. The characters are simply too offbeat, too austere and much too aggrieved and depressed to be counterbalanced, much less offset by the subtle jabs of pleasure, mostly conceived and delivered through dialogue rather than situations. In the end, The Accidental Tourist left me wanting and…well… rundown. I’ll give it this much. It is an unusual comedy. That doesn’t make it one of the best, however – at least, in my opinion.
The Accidental Tourist arrives on Blu-ray via the Warner Archive (WAC). Photographed by multi-talented cinematographer, John Bailey under diffused natural light, what is here in 1080p may startle those used to punchy hi-def transfers bursting with bold colors and razor sharp imagery. The Baltimore locations, inside and out, are subtly nuanced in dull browns, grays and beiges. Muriel’s quirky wardrobe and cluttered flat are the only real splashes of color we get. They are richly saturated, but not in a way that immediately draws our attention. WAC has scanned an interpositive at 2K and performed the necessary color correction and cleanup. Aside: I want to stress my considerable disappointment over WAC’s shortsightedness herein. For although their mastering efforts are peerless and as ideally suited for the Blu-ray format, they all but stop short of achieving a quality master that can easily be bumped to Ultra hi-def in the future. That said The Accidental Tourist on Blu-ray perfectly captures the minutest nuances in this oft dimly lit imagery with excellent shadow detail and exquisite grain. The original Dolby Stereo print master has been encoded to 2.0 DTS and sounds grand. This is a dialogue-driven movie and 2.0 audio suits it fine. Extras are all ported over from the DVD release and include a very brief introduction by Kasdan, a sporadic audio commentary from Geena Davis, the featurette ‘It’s Like Life’ and a few deleted scenes and theatrical trailer. If you are a fan of The Accidental Tourist, this Blu-ray faithfully reproduced the look of the original theatrical presentation. Bottom line: recommended for quality – not content.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


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