By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: A family of misfits.
Note: This review is part of the 1984 blog-a-thon series over at Forgotten Films.
Win Berry (Beau Bridges) is unhappy with his teaching job and feels he is not making enough money so he decides to start a hotel and make it a family venture. Tagging along with him is his mouthy daughter Frannie (Jodie Foster) who has an unhealthy lust for her brother John (Rob Lowe) and he in her as well as Frank (Paul McCrane) who is gay and Lily (Jennifer Dundas) who has stopped growing and unhappy with her short height. After many misadventures the business goes under so they move to Vienna, Austria and open up a new hotel and continue to get into a wide range of weird scenarios while also coming into contact with Susie (Nastassja Kinski) who likes to disguise herself as a bear and the blind, but quite wily Freud (Wallace Shawn).
The film, based on the John Irving novel who also co-wrote the screenplay, is something you are either going to like or hate. The narrative structure is quite odd and filled with goofy side-stories that have no connection to anything else. It’s similar to director Tony Richardson’s The Loved One, but that film at least had excellent satire that tied it all together while this thing gets nonsensical for no real reason. Mixing quirky humor with trenchant drama doesn’t work and certain plot twists like death of family members, sudden blindness and even gang rape become like throwaway pieces that are just glossed over and then soon forgotten. The superficial tone is annoying and the ‘lovably eccentric’ characters eventually become irritating.
Foster is outstanding as she plays the bratty, foul-mouthed, rebellious teen to an absolute tee. The lesbian scene where she goes to bed with Kinski and kisses her on the mouth is on an erotic level not bad. Kinski also shines with a similarly bitchy attitude, but I got real sick of constantly seeing her in that hideous bear outfit. Dundas as the youngest female member has an adorable face, but delivers her lines in too much of a one-note way.
Lowe is surprisingly strong and his best moment comes with the facial expressions he gives at trying to lift a barbell that is too heavy. I also liked Mathew Modine being cast against type. Typically he plays the kind and gentle types, but here he’s a real nasty, callous guy who rapes Foster and then later shows up in the Vienna scenes in a dual role as an underground pornographer with a Hitler-like mustache.
Bridges is good, but his boyish face makes him look too young to be the father of the grown children. Wilford Brimley is also miscast as the grandfather as he was only seven years older than Bridges and had no gray hair, at least not on his head.
The scene where the Foster character has wild sex with her brother may be too much for some, but most likely those same viewers will have gotten turned off by it long before it even gets there. I admit it was getting on my nerves most of the way as well, but then strangely it ended up having a certain appeal, but only enough to give it a passable rating. Richardson’s direction is for the most part slick and the one things that saves it although with this thing personal taste will be one’s own barometer.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: March 9, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes
Director: Tony Richardson
Studio: Orion Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video