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John Cassavetes' script for She's So Lovely sat in a drawer for 20 years. Director son Nick Cassavetes didn't want to touch it, without first getting film chops of his own. The actor first approached to play in it became a star in the interim, but he didn't forget this tightly focussed three player piece. Sean Penn signed on, passed the script to his wife and the resulting product proves that the twenty year gestation was more than worth the wait.
She's So Lovely is a story that is not improbable. It's focus is on a young couple without a pot to piss on, married and just getting by, and very much in love. When we meet "Mo," for Maureen (Robin Wright Penn) she is mooching whisky from friends and neighbors to get by 'cuz her man has gone off an a three day bender -- not an alcoholic bender, he's just gone.
Eddie's (Sean Penn) ability to make an earning is never made clear. It's implied that he's some sort of heavy, but he doesn't look it, and his personal weapon is decidedly low calibre. This couple is down at the absolute fringes of society. They mooch and they flatter and connive, but they get by. Mo is pregnant and Eddie's three day disappearances are becoming a regular occurrence. There's an implication of previous mental instability on Eddie's part, and when it raises its ugly head, the result is savage and ugly. Eddie is taken away in a strait jacket, Mo's life goes to hell and her farewell to Eddie tells him he can be better, and they can be reunited in three months. If he works hard.
When we next see Eddie, he has worked hard, but is a shadow of the man he once was. The three months -- and to his mind it has only been three months -- is really ten years. Mo is a married mom with three daughters, living the suburban life with a construction foreman husband just a notch up the evolutionary scale. She has three daughters, has had no contact with her first husband, and is a prime candidate for the Prozac patrol. Joey (John Travolta) carries as much anger in his personal picture as Eddie did, but it's mitigated by success and love of his family -- the wife he saved from the gutter, the adopted daughter he's raised with the two mor he's made. When Eddie comes back into the life of this "stable" couple, the results are not what you expect.
Sean Penn's performance is, in a word, better than his Oscar® winner for Dead Man Walking. His real life wife, Robin Wright Penn continues to build a solid career as an actress whose looks don't get in the way. Travolta doesn't let his star power get in the way of his supporting role, and from the stable of Cassavetes players, Harry Dean Stanton, Debi Mazar and Gena Rowlands (John's widow) make substantial contributions in more minor roles as friends and social workers.
She's So Lovely shows that it doesn't matter how big the house is, the caliber of the person inside doesn't change with the amount of money in the pocket. John Travolta's Joey is just as gutter as Eddie or Mo. A good dad, stretched to his emotional limit, he feeds beer to his eldest (nine year old) daughter as he begins to crack under the emotional pressure that has been building for years; he just looks classier doing it. Joey knows that Eddie would return one day. Joey knows that Mo still holds a torch. Joey isn't quite sure how to react to keep his family intact and defend it from the lunatic from the psycho institution.
Three strong characters. Three strong individual stories. Three outstanding performances in She's So Lovely, a film made strong by the fact that the ending you expect is not the one you get. The quality of passion is stretched to the limit, and the choices made are are not crystal clear.
God, this is making Cranky talk like a film student. I hate when I do that. But I tremendously enjoyed the sophomore effort from Nick Cassavetes, having been one of the few reviewers to detest his debut, Unhook the Stars. There's a lot to look forward to from this very promising auteur.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to She's So Lovely, he would have paid...
Oscar® time is coming and She's So Lovely is very, very highly recommended.
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