Picks and Pans Review: Nadine

updated 08/10/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/10/1987 01:00AM

Summer at the movies: As usual, you get yucks (Spaceballs), shocks (The Untouchables) and sharks (Jaws the Revenge). Usually, you don't get a smart, sassy love story for grown-ups. But you do this summer. Writer-director Robert Benton is usually associated with earnest projects like Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart. But think back to the underrated 1977 Benton gem, The Late Show, with Art Carney and Lily Tomlin, for a better idea of the flaky pleasures in store in Nadine. Gorgeous Kim Basinger, in the title role, works in a beauty parlor in Austin, Texas, circa 1954. She's got this problem, see—actually two problems. One's her husband, Vernon, played by Jeff Bridges, who operates a run-down saloon. Nadine dreams of bigger things, maybe Hollywood. That's why she's about to make Vernon her ex. Her other problem concerns some revealing pictures a sleazy photographer once talked her into. Her efforts to get those photos back involve Nadine with a gang of cut-throats led by Rip Torn (who goes happily hog-wild with the role). As Nadine finds herself leaning on good ole Vernon, the two find a way of winning back their love. Benton has taken a plot that's part I, the Jury and part I Love Lucy and fashioned a funny, surprisingly moving meditation on what makes a marriage. The wonderful period sets make the movie feel lived in. So do the juicy, evocative performances. Gwen Verdon is comic and compassionate as Nadine's boss. And Glenne (Making Mr. Right) Headly nearly steals the show as Vernon's doxy on the side. How? Just watch her walk off with your heart merely by driving a car and humming a few bars of Lefty Frizzell's If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time). Benton has always been a wonder with actors. Proof positive comes in his handling of Basinger, a star long on the verge of happening. Weighted down by a string of wrong career moves (9½ Weeks, No Mercy, Blind Date), she's found the right role at last. Her Nadine is a hellcat determined to keep her spiked heels on ground that keeps crumbling. She sparks Bridges to his most ardent, appealing performance. In one scene, the two fall in love again while he's suspended on a board between two buildings. Basinger has been too coolly beautiful on screen to register as a personality. Now she's more than whistle-bait: You root for her. You root for the movie too. Nadine, buoyed by the lighthearted charm of its stars and script, is something striking and special. (PG)

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