Thursday, April 23, 2009

Film Review: THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA (1988, Ron Nyswaner)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Keanu Reeves, Fred Ward, Bonnie Bedilia, Amy Madigan, Jay O. Sanders (JFK, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).
Tag-lines: "He's The King Of The Badlands... The Rebel Of The Road... "
Best one-liner: "We offend the common rabble with our truth." (but said in the Keanu Reeves-voice it takes on a more colorful quality).

Well, let's see here. First, let's talk about why I rented this. The cover. The rookie Photoshop floating heads combined with Keanu's side mullet and muttonheaded smirk made this seem like it could be a forgotten trash gem.

It's not. Instead, it's a pretty thoughtful indie dramedy. It's exactly the sort of movie that, if it were made today, would be a mawkish, groan-inducing shitstorm starring a bunch of CW actors or worse on their summer hiatuses. And I'm not talking current films getting trumped by the nostalgia factor, or unintentional laughs, or anything I usually talk about when I talk about an 80's film. It's just a fact. This is the kind of movie they fuck up when they try to make it today. Written and directed by Ron Nyswaner (the writer of PHILADELPHIA and the underrated SOLDIER'S GIRL) and starring Keanu Reeves, Fred Ward (REMO WILLIAMS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, many an Altman film),

Bonnie Bedelia (DIE HARD), and Amy Madigan (POLLOCK), THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA manages some solid moments. It even played at Cannes!

The main thrust is the bleak, overcast, suburban depression caused by living in Buttfuck, Pennsylvania, and the painful values systems therein. It tackles these themes similar to Hal Hartley would, and creates some memorable scenes- a drugged Fred Ward having flashbacks to a Vietnamese brothel and confusing his son for a prostitute (which is wisely not played for laughs), biker punks crashing a prim 'n proper high school dance, Keanu wandering around in oversized winter clothes, and Amy Madigan acting as intense as the wife of Ed Harris should. Madigan even wears a Freddy mask at one point,

which is probably an in-joke from Rachel Talalay, production exec here and line producer on several NIGHTMARES and director of FREDDY'S DEAD.

Bonnie Bedelia in Keanu's garage bedroom. Side note- why do so many 80's characters randomly have mannequin parts in their living spaces (i.e., Ferris Bueller, Pee-Wee Herman, etc.)?

Anyway, there's likable, relatable characters, believable quirk, and some existential angst that works.

(Without a doubt it's what made Gus van Sant want to use Keanu in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO.) And see Keanu pronounce "Socrates" properly, one year before BILL AND TED. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

1 comment:

Tempest said...

I saw this a year ago. I had never heard of it. It was decent and I agree, they would not be able to pull a film like this off today. Keanu is another actor who does not get enough credit. He has proven he can act and people still make fun of him constantly. People are stupid--Bill and Ted was silly, but we all have to start somewhere.