Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Is it possible for a mainstream Hollywood movie to depict three independent women on the road, boozing, bonding, and otherwise having the kind of footloose fun cinematic men usually enjoy on the open highway?
Yes it is, and Boys on the Side is here to prove it.
And might a mainstream Hollywood movie also provide a sympathetic, if sketchy, African-American lesbian character?
Yes indeed, and Boys accepts that assignment too.
And could such a mainstream Hollywood movie arrive at its final frame without one of those women dying an agonizing death?
Hey, what do you think this is, Europe?
Ashameless pastiche, Boys compiles moments from recent flicks that connected with the adult-female market. A cumbersome but more candid title would be Terms of Thelma and the Steel Green Tomatoes’ Endearment, and the publicity machine is unabashed about that: The ads announcing sneak previews of the film trumpeted the similarities to three of those four antecedents. Director Herbert Ross has been at this sort of thing a long time, and he’s content to simply push the requisite buttons.
Boys‘ road trip starts in New York, with an unlikely alliance between a hard-boiled black blues singer (Whoopi Goldberg) and a chirpy white real-estate agent and Carpenters fan (Mary-Louise Parker, trumping all her previous victim roles). They agree to drive to California together, and in Pittsburgh pick up one of the singer’s pals (Drew Barrymore), whose boyfriend is a physically abusive junkie drug-dealer. These three characters have names, and just to prove I took notes I’ll tell you what they are: Jane, Robin, and Holly. For our purposes, though, it will be easier to use acronyms: Unrequited Black Lesbian Singer (UBLS), Good Girl With AIDS (GGWA), and Pregnant Bimbo Murderer (PBM).
PBM, you see, thumped her junk ie boyfriend with a baseball bat on her way out of town, and he subsequently died; she’s also pregnant, though not necessarily by the stiff. GGWA has black-and-white flashbacks of a cross-country childhood trip, taken when her 6-year-old brother was dying of cancer, and these visions foretell her own death from AIDS, which she contracted from sex with an unidentified bartender. UBLS hopes to revive her career in L.A., but can’t bring herself to abandon GGWA, with whom she is soon secretly in love. This, by the way, is a comedy.
Well, it is for a while, and the movie is actually better than it sounds before it makes the definitive shift from madcap to maudlin. The three quickly become best pals, and rock their way across the heartland to the sounds of “Shame Shame Shame” and late-’60s heavy-rock tunes—“Magic Carpet Ride,” “Crossroads”—remade by women singers. Then GGWA gets really ill, and the trio settles in Tucson, where its extended family includes the Indigo Girls, the ballads kick back in, and plot developments lurk behind every cactus.
Scripter Don Roos has provided truckloads of plot, as befits a flick that alternately draws on the road-movie, buddy, comedy, weepie, and courtroom-drama genres. (As best I could determine, there is no sci-fi element.) Despite the film’s initial bravado, though, it cops out whenever things get provocative. PBM’s murder rap evaporates conveniently, and UBLS and GGWA can only admit their love for each other after the latter is so sick that sex is beside the point. Still, Boys illustrates one interesting distinction between Hollywood’s pandering notions of the male and female agendas: For the former, it promises instant sex; for the latter, instant friendship.
Woody Allen’s sensibility is not exactly universal, but with Miami Rhapsody first-time writer/director David Frankel attempts to demonstrate that it can be given sex- and locale-change operations. Rather than an anxious, wisecracking middle-aged Jewish male New Yorker, Gwyn Marcus (Sarah Jessica Parker) is an anxious, wisecracking young Jewish female Miamian. And if that weren’t disorienting enough, Mia Farrow is her mother.
In this competent knockoff of Allen’s own recent knockoffs, advertising copywriter Gwyn is “obsessing” about the wisdom of her planned marriage to earnest, pleasant zoologist Matt (Gil Bellows). Looking to her own family for examples of how wedlock should properly proceed, she’s quickly disillusioned. Mom is sleeping with Grandma’s saintly male nurse, Antonio (Antonio Banderas), while Dad (Paul Mazursky) is fooling around with his travel agent. Gwyn’s brother Jordan (Kevin Pollak) is cheating on his pregnant wife Terri (Barbara Garrick) with his business partner’s fashion-model wife Kaia (Naomi Campbell). Then her sister Leslie (Carla Gugino) marries football player Jeff (Bo Eason), finds out he’s stingy, and so takes up with a former high-school classmate.
These characterizations are seldom more than one-note: Antonio and Matt are nice guys because they nurture, respectively, old ladies and chimps; Mom and Leslie are really into decorating; Dad and Jordan are sort of piggish, but were led astray by sexually aggressive women; Kaia, being both black and British, must be exotic. Lest anyone miss that Leslie and Jeff are Too Young for Commitment, their wedding vows are derived from Dr. Seuss. And, just to prove that this love stuff is terribly confusing, after Gwyn quarrels with Matt, she almost crawls into an Orlando hotel-room bed with Antonio.
Gwyn aspires to write TV sitcoms, and Frankel should be so lucky. Though on TV he wouldn’t be allowed to ape Allen so shamelessly—Rhapsody even opens with Louis Armstrong’s crooning—there’s not much here that wouldn’t fit on Fox. Take, for example, Frankel’s obsession with breasts. One protracted scene teasingly turns on whether or not Gwyn is going to remove her bra for the camera (she doesn’t), and when Kaia (shot from behind) removes her top, Jordan faints dead away.
It’s appropriate that Mazursky is in this movie, since it resembles some of his attempts to dumb down European-style relationship films for the American shopping-mall crowd. (Allen even starred in one of those, Scenes From a Mall.) The only thing that distinguishes Rhapsody is Parker’s role: It’s still novel to see a young actress face the camera and do shtick. But the shtick itself, alas, is not novel at all.