It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Burt Reynolds seems to have two basic screen characters, which, for ease of classification, we can describe as Bad Burt and Good Reynolds. Bad Burt is a mean ol' boy who tools around the Southland in a souped-up sports car, infuriating sheriffs and making Sally Field cry. Good Reynolds, however, is a guy who used to be macho and heartless, but has grown into a sensitive, caring kinda guy who is trying to build bridges to women and children.
“Paternity” gives us the good guy. The Reynolds character is a lot like the man he played in “Starting Over” and maybe a little bit in “Hooper,” a guy torn between a self-image as a ladies' man and a desire to grow more sensitive. This time, he's the manager of Madison Square Garden, and he leads a lonely but (he thinks) idyllic existence as a New York playboy. He's got a date every night, but there's nobody to come home to. And when he shoots baskets with a friend's son, he begins to realize that he would like to have a son, too. Not a family, mind you. And certainly not a wife. But a son. He sends out feelers for a surrogate mother. All the candidates are impossible or have braces on their teeth. Then he stumbles across a pretty blonde waitress in a restaurant where he has lunch. She's a music student, wants to study in Paris, and will bear his child for a one-time payment of $50,000 (considerably higher than market price, I believe).
The waitress is played by Beverly D'Angelo. She was the rich kid in HAIR and Patsy Cline in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” She is wonderful in this movie, soft and warm and understanding. Of course, we know (although Good Reynolds is slow to catch on) that they will eventually fall in love. God knows Burt tries to hold out and play the playboy role, but eventually even his sexy dates such as Elizabeth Ashley start to like D'Angelo and to lay a guilt trip on Reynolds.
But a-ha, you are thinking, I have given the plot away. Well, yes and no. I have given the plot away in one sense, but in another sense this movie drives us to the edges of our seat with maddening frustration because it is so slow to give itself away. “Paternity” is absolutely predictable at every moment. Stop the film at any point, and nine out of ten viewers could correctly predict what was going to happen next.
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