Picks and Pans Review: Men Don't Leave

updated 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jessica Lange

It's not exactly that Lange can do no wrong. It's more that she does wrong with such style.

Through sheer force of personality, she renders watchable—almost involving—this movie about a debt-ridden woman trying to raise two young sons in Baltimore after her husband dies. She needs a good share of force, too, since this film often looks as if it is the place where clichés go to die.

The script—co-written by director Paul (Risky Business) Brickman and Barbara (Immediate Family) Benedek—shows substantially less understanding of human emotions than it does of TV sitcom behavior. When Lange starts to date again, for instance, her teenage son, Chris O'Donnell, pounces out at her when she comes home late as if he had bounced off a trampoline.

Arliss (Full Metal Jacket) Howard, as Lange's boyfriend, is one of those too-sensitive-to-be-true guys, madly in love with her from look one and incredibly tolerant of even her most ludicrous excesses of self-pity. (That includes Lange's desperate five-day sleeping binge, during which the film's metabolism slows down as much as hers does.)

Meanwhile the younger son, nicely played by Charlie Korsmo, a Minneapolis 10-year-old, becomes part of an unlikely juvenile burglary ring. And O'Donnell is seduced by an older woman, Joan (Working Girl) Cusack, in the sort of turn of event that occurs much more often in teenage boys' daydreams than it does in real life.

Throughout, Lange turns herself into a mess. She looks frumpy, scowls, nags. She in fact creates such a complete character—a woman totally overwhelmed—that it almost doesn't matter what's happening on the periphery.

Only "almost" though. Every time Lange is absent from the screen, it jolts you back to the reality that this too often is merely foolish business. That reality is further pounded home in what is essentially an epilogue, which—by so extravagantly celebrating the relationships of fathers and sons—seems to diminish mothers to an inevitably second-string parental role. (PG-13)

From Our Partners