Picks and Pans Review: American Friends
Those in need of a Merchant-Ivory fix will have to wait until the fall release of the team's The Remains of the Day. This film, which seems from the ads and trailers to be in the tradition of Howards End and A Room with a View, is to Merchant and Ivory what skim milk is to cream. Yes, there is lavish, gorgeous scenery, a genteel story—a university don in the mid 1800s (Palin) must choose between his career and love—and a spill of period costumes. But the characters are as pale as watercolors, and the plot, drawn on an incident in the life of Palin's real great-grandfather, lacks both urgency and logic. Palin, a fussy middle-aged Oxford classics tutor, is about to embark on an Alpine walking tour and is hesitant about the sojourn. The president of the university is in frail health, and Palin is hoping to be chosen as his successor. But Palin goes anyway and meets two American women: Booth, middle-aged and of strong social conscience as well as an awareness that her chances for marriage are almost at an end; and her pretty, adopted teenage daughter (Alvarado). Both are immediately drawn to the don—who lacks even the charms of Mr. Chips—going so far as to follow him back to Oxford after the holiday.
Why? Truthfully one is tempted to blame the thin mountain air. Certainly, nothing in the lugubrious script or Palm's oddly uninspired performance offers a more plausible explanation. (PG)