Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Paul and Leonard Schrader (MISHIMA, BLUE COLLAR, THE YAKUZA). Starring Talia Shire (THE GODFATHER, ROCKY), Richard Jordan (THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, Lynch's DUNE), John Belushi (ANIMAL HOUSE, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), Keith Carradine (DEADWOOD, SOUTHERN COMFORT), John Houseman (the stage, ROLLERBALL, THE FOG), P.J. Soles (ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, HALLOWEEN), Buck Henry (THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, TO DIE FOR), Gerrit Graham (CHILD'S PLAY 2, USED CARS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE). Music by David Shire (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, SHORT CIRCUIT, MONKEY SHINES).
Tagline: "...what happens when you see them again?"
Best one-liner: "I got a cameo on STARSKY AND HUTCH… wanna come out and see my Winnebago?"
Just in time for Valentine's Day, something with a romantic bent. Well, kind of.
I'm a tremendous fan of Paul Schrader, with MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS in serious contention as my favorite film of all time, and he's either written or directed other films that are near to my heart, like BLUE COLLAR, RAGING BULL, ROLLING THUNDER, TAXI DRIVER, AMERICAN GIGOLO, OBSESSION, CAT PEOPLE, PATTY HEARST, and so many others. I've been on sort of a quest to see the rarest films in his catalogue, and this usually involves sifting through bins of used VHS tapes and poking around in the dustier corners of the internet. For a mere $1.99, I got my hands on an early, largely unseen Schrader called OLD BOYFRIENDS. He co-wrote it with his brother Leonard, and it's directed by Joan Tewkesbury, whose major claim to fame was writing the screenplay for Robert Altman's NASHVILLE. It stars some perennial favorites, too– names like Talia Shire, Richard Jordan, Keith Carradine, John Houseman, and John Belushi. I also discovered that the film's reputation is rather weak– apparently the 117 souls who've seen it and voted on IMDb rank it a mere 4.2 out of 10. It seems to have been out of circulation for a long time, too– the VHS I obtained was manufactured in 1982, the cassette itself is sort of a discolored grey, and the original MSRP printed on the side claims $79.95! Ah, it was a different era. Regardless, knowing these few scant facts, I embarked upon OLD BOYFRIENDS. And I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.
The plot is as follows: a psychologist (Talia Shire) undergoes a self-centered identity crisis as she weathers the collapse of her marriage and decides to embark upon a road trip into her distant past, visiting her college beau (Richard Jordan), who is now a successful director of television commercials; her douchey high school boyfriend (John Belushi) who runs a garment rental business and performs in a 50's throwback band (it feels kind of like an audition for THE BLUES BROTHERS!); and the brother of her deceased middle school sweetheart (Keith Carradine), who suffers from agoraphobia and is deeply depressed. The intent of her travels seems to be self-exploration and self-knowledge, but the end result is not always positive– in some cases it involves revenge and the opening of long-ago-sutured psychological wounds. As such, some have labelled it as a man-hating tract, but that's an incredibly narrow view; Shire's character is often selfish but her behavior is not lionized (and Schrader's attraction to pariahs and unlikable protagonists has occasionally been misinterpreted as such). The whole thing has a tremendous quotidian interest– I'm not even close to being a fan of the "relationship genre," but I found the film's plot set-up to be fascinating, and its development satisfying. Tewkesbury's directorial debut is strong– atmospheric, contemplative, and specific. It doesn't rank amongst the Schrader brothers' absolute finest work, but there's great pathos and good humor, and I'm glad I was finally able to get my hands on it.
Now, onto the minutiae, as I am wont to do:
–There's an amazing melodramatic soundtrack by David Shire which infuses the film with dose of seriousness and a dose of camp, both of which work in the film's favor.
–Buck Henry shows up as a fidgety Private Investigator whose office overlooks Grauman's Chinese theater. STAR WARS is on the marquee.
–In a hotel room, Shire watches a 50's TV show called THE CONTINENTAL, whereupon the viewer, via first-person POV cinematography, is treated to a date with an unsavory man. I had no idea that the popular Christopher Walken SNL skit… was a remake!
–Gerrit Graham appears as an awesomely sleazy actor on Richard Jordan's set who hits on Ms. Shire, insisting "I got a cameo on STARSKY AND HUTCH… wanna come out and see my Winnebago?"
–And finally, the idea of Keith Carradine being the brother of her dead middle school sweetheart begs the question…. was said paramour DAVID Carradine???
Nearly four stars.