By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Disciples of James Dean.
Twenty years after his untimely death five women (Cher, Sandy Dennis, Karen Black, Kathy Bates, Marta Heflin), who were big fans of James Dean and called themselves his disciples, decide to hold a reunion at a thrift shop in a small town not far from Marfa, Texas where the film Giant was made. However, the reunion is not a happy one as old wounds and secrets come to light that forces the women to analyze themselves and their lives in uncomfortable and unpleasant ways.
One of the things that really annoyed me about this movie and at times just downright confused me is that the characters show no signs of aging at all as it shifts between 1955 and the present day of 1975. Twenty years is a significant period of time and most everyone will show some signs of age, or at least changes to their hairstyle and outfits and yet with the exception of the Joe character there is no distinguishable differences between the others from one period to the next. The Cher character was particularly perplexing as her hair remains jet black for two decades and even the same exact style. One could argue that maybe she dyed it, okay, but she also manages to somehow retain her same girlish figure, which is even less likely.
I also found it hard to believe that she could afford to make a living by working at little thrift store for 20 years, or that she would even be needed as the place was small enough for one person to run and through the course of the entire movie never once does a single customer even enter the place. Her character was attractive enough to find a man, get married and run off to another town or place that had more potential. We learn through the course of the movie that she was married at one point, but then dumped, however I would think she would’ve been able to find someone else in a 20 year time span especially since she was still quite good looking.
Keeping all of the action inside the thrift store makes the film seem almost claustrophobic. I realize this was based on a stage play, but most plays that get transferred to film will have certain scenes, or cutaways added in to avoid this feeling. Even having some outdoor shots done over the opening credits would’ve given it a little more of a visual variety.
The performances are the best thing about the movie and probably the only reason to see it. All three leads recreate their parts from the stage version. Cher is sensational and in my opinion gives the best performance. Dennis is solid doing her patented fragile caricature and who displays some interesting emotional eruptions at completely unexpected times. Black is excellent as well. Usually she plays flaky types, but here is more reserved and steely. Bates is good as a loud and abrasive woman and Sudie Bond lends fine support as the shop’s overtly religious owner.
The script is passable, but the revelations that come out are stuff you’d find on a second-rate soap opera. I also found it hard to believe that these women would get together after 20 years and not have other things to talk about. Usually when people meet after not seeing each other for an extended period of time there’s always a lot of ‘catching up’ to do where they talk about all the things that have happened to them since, but here there’s none of that. Instead they come off like people frozen in time clinging to bygone issues that just about anyone else would’ve moved on from long ago.
The film ends with several shots of the store shown in an abandoned and rundown state, but with no explanation of what time period it was taken in. At first I thought this meant that maybe the reunion had never occurred. That maybe it had just been imagined, which is a concept that I liked and would also have filled in some of the gaping plot holes that I’ve described above, but then I saw the reunion banner still hanging in a tattered state from the ceiling. Others on IMDb have debated that it may represent the reunion that they had planned for 1995 that never came about, which is a good guess, but with business being as slow as it was at that place I think it would’ve been abandoned long before 1975 let alone 1995.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: November 12, 1982
Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes
Director: Robert Altman
Studio: Cinecom Pictures