Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
"Bed of Roses" tells a sappy story about two sad sacks who get more or less what they deserve - each other. It's one of those weepers that might have made sense in the 1930s, with big stars to let us know it was only kidding. But I'm afraid this movie is very serious about its romance, which is so earnest and sweet that I kept hoping at least one of the lovers would turn out to be a slasher.
The film opens with a day in the life of Lisa (Mary Stuart Masterson), a top-level executive whose private life is empty despite the presence (or more often the absence) of a boyfriend. Both of them are workaholics, making it convenient to go with a person who has no time for them. One day Lisa gets some news: A man named Stanley has died in Philadelphia. On the same day, she receives a mysterious delivery of flowers, from an anonymous admirer.
We learn more about Stanley later: He was Lisa's abusive adoptive father, who reared her after she was abandoned at an airport. Stanley's wife died soon after the adoption; Lisa is a woman with more missing parents than most. (There is even a flashback to little Lisa asking the drunken, sullen Stanley, "When's my birthday?" and him growling, "You don't have a birthday.") Back to the present. Who are the flowers from? She cross-examines the deliveryman, named Lewis (Christian Slater). He claims to know nothing, but later confesses the flowers are from him.
He takes long walks at night, you see, to try to forget the pain of his wife and child having died, and one day he saw her standing in her window, and fell in love. Oh, and he owns the florist shop.
Lisa and Lewis are both almost bent with the weight of their misfortunes, but they begin to date, and the progress of their relationship is charted by Lisa's best friend, Kim (Pamela Segall), who is one of those convenient characters put into movies so the heroine will have someone to talk to while providing innermost thoughts that otherwise would have to go into voice-over narration.
(At least Segall brings bright energy to the role; we have a feeling that if the flowers had been delivered to Kim she would have had better things to do than spend three days trying to find out who sent them.) Far be it from me to reveal what happens as the romance progresses. But I'm serious about thinking one of them would turn out to be a dangerous nut. Usually, in modern movies, romantic setups like this are played so straight only when a nasty surprise is going to pop up later (see "Fatal Attraction").
Is he too good to be true? Does her moody exterior conceal dangerous aberrations? Alas, no. The movie hinges on that most reliable of modern romantic clichés, the Fear of Commitment. How can she commit to romance when she has been abused by Stanley and grown up to be a workaholic? And how can he commit, when he is afraid all will end in disaster, as it did with his first wife? Just to give you a sample of the movie's goofiness, the two of them spend their first date delivering flowers. See, even though Lewis owns the shop, he likes to deliver the flowers himself, just to see people's faces light up when they receive them. What a sensitive guy.
The actors are wasted on this material, which moves forward with grave deliberation. Mary Stuart Masterson, who specializes in spunk and fortitude, doesn't seem right as an unfocused, self-pitying loser. And Christian Slater is better as a cool, laconic outsider than as a dreamer with a song in his heart. Maybe one reason they seem unconvincing is that the story lays it on so thick; they're buried by the material.
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