Sweet Liberty (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Retelling history Hollywood style.

Michael Burgess (Alan Alda) is an historian who writes a book that is purchased into a movie. To his dismay the screenplay is ‘Hollywoodnized’ and looks nothing like the original story. Michael then attempts to get the script corrected while the movie is being produced.

This is a mechanical comedy with situations, characters, and jokes are that quite predictable. There is not one moment that stands out as hilarious and the direction lacks visual flair. Yet when compared to Alda’s other efforts this one fares better. The dialogue is livelier and the story has more energy and conflict, but as satire it is too light.

There are more subplots than are necessary and take away from the main plot. One involves his relationship with a fellow history professor Gretchen (Lisa Hilboldt) and their constant arguing about whether or not to get married becomes tiring. There is also a storyline involving his interactions with his aging mother, which is played by the legendary Lillian Gish. Of course it is always fun to see Gish in a later day role and this is indeed one of her most amusing, but the segment itself is contrived.

Alda always likes to cast fellow performers around his same age, which would explain the miscasting of Michael Caine. Caine is reliable, but having him play a Colin Farrell like leading man seems best suited for a younger actor. A more virile performer would have made the animosity between the character and Alda’s more distinct and intriguing.

Michelle Pfeiffer is cast as a beautiful actress hired to play the leading lady. Her character is interesting because it shows how on her off time how she is completely different person from the one she is playing in the production. This allows for some light insight into the acting process. The film also touches on the politics and behind the scenes maneuverings that go on during a production although it could have gone a lot further with this.

Having Burgess end up sleeping with Pfeiffer seems to be a stretch. Things become even more incredulous when Gretchen, in a fit of revenge, forms a relationship with Caine. The Caine character is a self- absorbed star with lots of beautiful women chasing after him and the chances of him getting excited or even noticing an average looking woman like her seems unlikely.

The Bob Hoskins character is by far the most engaging. He plays the scriptwriter and tries to educate Michael on the ins and outs of the film business. Saul Rubinek as the film’s director runs a close second. He perfectly creates the frantic traits of someone who must act more like a politician than a director.

Overall this is a film that could have done more with the material. It rates slightly better than some of Alda’s other efforts, but it is still just a pleasant time filler that is easily forgettable. I did however like the original music.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

4 responses to “Sweet Liberty (1986)

  1. I saw this a long time ago on HBO and didn’t care for it.

    As a side note, do you know that when I click onto your blog from Google Reader it freezes my computer for 30-60 seconds? I don’t see anything on your page that would cause that, but thought I’d let you know. I’m using Firefox on Windows 7.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you have had problems with your computer freezing. I’ve not heard that from anyone else and would have no idea what causes that. Hopefully that can somehow get remedied. As always I appreciate your comments.

  2. I still enjoy this film. It has its moments and Bob Hoskins steals every scene he’s in.

    In addition, the theme of the movie has been in every single comedy trailer in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

  3. Pingback: A New Life (1988) | Scopophilia

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