By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Journalist falls for dancer.
Lou (Paul Sorvino) is a successful columnist for a major New York newspaper and is known throughout the city where ever he goes. He’s been in a casual sexual relationship with Franny (Anita Dangler), an early version of what’s now called ‘friends with benefits’, for quite awhile, but he’s ready to move-on. He then meets Sarah (Anne Ditchburn) a professional dancer who’s moved into an apartment next to his. She’s getting ready to star in a big ballet production, but is finding that during rehearsals she’s having a lot of difficulty doing her routines. She visits a doctor and learns that she has a degenerative condition that will make her continued dancing impossible. If she tries to dance for even a little while more it could mean she’ll lose her ability to walk. She wants to perform one last time in the premiere of her play, but will Lou, whose just learned of her condition, be able to talk her out of it?
This was director John G. Avildsen’s follow-up to his mega-hit Rocky and many in the film going public, both fans and critics alike, were excited in anticipation at seeing his next big project. Some promos even described this as a ‘female Rocky’, but after it premiered no one was impressed. It ultimately died at the box office and tainted Avildsen, who had struggled for many years before Rocky, with a lot of low budget independent stuff that was never seen by a wide audience, as being a ‘one hit wonder’. Of course it didn’t help that he went on to direct the wretchedly bad Neighbors, but in either case this was the start of his career downfall that was somewhat saved with The Karate Kid, but not completely.
One of the things that I did like were the two stars. Ditchburn, whose only other starring role in a feature film was in the Canadian slasher Curtains, I felt was super. She was a professional dancer and initially I thought she had been the inspiration for the story, but apparently that wasn’t the case as Avildsen had already auditioned over 400 other people for the part before he settled on her, which came after he saw a picture of her and her beauty so mesmerized him he couldn’t get her image out of his head. While her acting during her audition was by her own admission ‘a disaster’ Avildsen was determined to make it work and they went through long and exhausting acting lessons until it improved. Some critics labeled her performance as ‘wooden’, but her initial frosty reaction to Sorvino, who came-off like a middle-aged poon-hound, seemed reasonable and what most other women would’ve done. The many headbands that she wears throughout was an attempt to cover-up a bad haircut that she had gotten just before filming began and in my opinion they had a sexy appeal.
Sorvino is genuinely engaging playing a prototype of famous New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and while others have played a similar type of role, including Breslin himself, I felt Sorvino did it best and his presence helps keep the film watchable. I did though question why his character, who writes for a major newspaper and known seemingly throughout the city and occasionally even gets spotted as if he were a celebrity, would still have to be living in a rundown, two-bit apartment building like he does.
The empty-headed script by actress-turned-screenwriter Barra Grant is the biggest culprit. There’s simply no rational, logical reason for why these two complete opposites, with a drastic age separation, would suddenly go ga-ga for each other at virtually first sight. For Sorvino I could see why an out-of-shape middle-aged man would lust after a cute young thing who’s moved in next door and hope if he heaps enough attention on her he might get lucky, but I didn’t understand why Sarah would fall for a guy who was so much older. She was previously in a relationship with another older man, played by Nicholas Coaster, but no explanation for why she liked guys who could’ve been her father, even though in an effort to make her motives more understandable, there should’ve been one.
To make the concept believable the two should’ve been put into some situation where they had to rely on each other to succeed and in the process fell-in-love. It could’ve been helping each other out of some disaster like an apartment fire, or car accident. Or working together on a long-term project. Having the female protagonist then get afflicted with some ‘disease-of-the-week’ just makes it even more corny.
The ending in which we get to see the musical Sarah’s been preparing for is actually the best part as the stage production allows for some visual creativity, which had been otherwise lacking, but I didn’t like the tension of whether she was going to be able to make it through her illness without collapsing. The fact that she’s able to perform and only collapses the second the play is over is incredibly hokey. It also ends too abruptly with Sorvino carrying the crippled Sarah onstage where she gets a standing ovation by the audience, but no denouement showing what happened afterwards. Does she get the operation, which would allow her to walk again, or does she become permanently confined to a wheel chair and if so does that affect their budding relationship? These are questions that should’ve been answered, but aren’t.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: November 8, 1978
Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes
Director: John G. Avildsen
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Blu-ray