Picks and Pans Review: The Moderns

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The director of this off-the-wall gem, Alan Rudolph, has written an as yet unproduced screenplay based on The Far Side, Gary Larson's blissfully maladjusted syndicated cartoon. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Rudolph's films, including this one, have displayed the same vague dementia as Larson's work, minus the talking cows. Rudolph's films—Welcome to L.A., Choose Me, Trouble in Mind—have been sometimes baffling, sometimes very nasty and often very witty. The Moderns fits right in. Set in Paris in 1926, it focuses on a struggling painter, Keith Carradine, whose father was a master art forger. The women in his life include his estranged wife, Linda (After Hours) Fiorentino; a nun-turned-art dealer, Genevieve Bujold, and a rapacious socialite, Geraldine Chaplin. Carradine's best friend, Wallace (My Dinner with Andre) Shawn, is a gossip columnist, and his main foe is John (The Last Emperor) Lone, a rich, ruthless condom manufacturer who thinks he is Fiorentino's husband. Among the peripheral figures are Ernest Hemingway, played by Kevin J. (Peggy Sue Got Married) O'Connor, and Gertrude Stein (Elsa Raven). David Stein, an ex-art forger, is a fatuous art critic. Carradine and Lone scuffle over Fiorentino. Carradine and Chaplin scuffle over forgeries of masterworks. Shawn talks about either moving to Hollywood or committing suicide, which seems right to the point. Rudolph, whose movies have never strained the ticket sellers, appears to be running up the artistic integrity flag. Success is equated with lack of value. Lone wants to buy valuable paintings only so that he can have the satisfaction of throwing them in a fire. Stein and Hemingway are relentlessly pompous; Hemingway hangs around the fringes making short stories out of scenes he has just witnessed and trying out lines: "Paris is...a traveling picnic," he muses. "No...a portable banquet." The art—the forgeries were painted by David Stein—seems hypervivid, and the sets are often surreal. The acting is delightful. Carradine, in his best counterculture Henry Fonda mode, is heroic. Fiorentino is sly and fleshily sensual. While Lone creates a deft combination of shrewd businessman and spoiled brat, Bujold does a counterpoint as an art peddler whose instincts are for self-preservation, not aesthetics. Written by Rudolph and Jon Bradshaw, an Esquire editor who died in 1986, the film scoffs at both popular culture and at its own pretensions, all but oozing cynicism. It's as if Rudolph were admitting, in a colorful, funny way, "I'm never going to sell out. But I think about it a lot." (Unrated)

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