The spirit is willing but the inspiration is missing in "Unbecoming Age," an unbecoming comedy about a woman who would rather act like a child than mature gracefully. This one-joke bit of yuppie hokum would be more appropriate on TV than on theater screens, where it stands scant chance of drawing an audience.

The spirit is willing but the inspiration is missing in “Unbecoming Age,” an unbecoming comedy about a woman who would rather act like a child than mature gracefully. This one-joke bit of yuppie hokum would be more appropriate on TV than on theater screens, where it stands scant chance of drawing an audience.

First feature by the husband-and-wife team of Alfredo and Deborah Ringel takes its central device from Howard Hawks’ 1952 farce “Monkey Business,” in which Cary Grant and company started behaving like teenagers after ingesting some rejuvenation serum.

Here, suburban housewife Diane Salinger finds herself notably depressed on her 40th birthday. “I hate my life,” she exclaims. “I don’t want to be 40. I don’t want to be any age. I just want to be me, whatever that is.”

Some magic bubbles keep her the same physically but cause her to transform into an 8-year-old mentally. Outwardly, she expresses her unbridled new personality by bouncing around on her bed, playing bunny rabbit with her daughter and sulking when hubby John Calvin doesn’t show an inclination to match her boundless energy or indulge her silliness.

Instead, he sends her to shrink Wallace Shawn, but Salinger continues to rebel by indulging in a heavy flirtation with young hipster George Clooney and carting Calvin’s ailing mother, Priscilla Pointer, off to Las Vegas, where she promptly dies at the blackjack table.

Salinger protests that Pointer died happy, that people should be allowed to follow their hearts and do what they want to do, until Calvin finally objects, “I’m fed up with this stupid act of yours,” a sentiment with which most viewers are likely to concur.

A happy-ending compromise of sorts is ultimately, and laboriously, worked out.

Basic conceptual problem is that the fantasy element, relating to what a middle-aged woman would do with new-found youth, is exasperatingly tame.

Given totally recharged energy and a fresh outlook, would one just jump up and down in the bedroom, play pretend with the kids and stay out late at a fast food restaurant? Screenwriters Meridith Baer and Geoff Prysirr have kept their imaginations too inhibited and domesticated where greater flights of fancy would have been welcome.

One’s sympathy goes out to Salinger, who has been asked to do all sorts of ungainly, infantile things by the Ringels and goes all out in compliance. Actress manages to remain somewhat likable no matter how unbridled her behavior becomes, which helps get one through the picture, but many of her antics border on the embarrassing.

Comic approach throughout leans toward the brash and garish, with subtlety nowhere to be found. A number of talented thesps brighten up the supporting cast , but few will count this among their more stellar credits.

Unbecoming Age

Production

A Ringelvision production. Produced, directed by Alfredo Ringel, Deborah Ringel. Line producer, Charla Driver. Screenplay, Meridith Baer, Geoff Prysirr.

Crew

Camera (CFI color), Harry Mathias; editor, Alan Geik; music, Jeff Lass; production design, Phil Dagort; costume design, Katheryn Shemanek; sound (Ultra-Stereo), Michael Evje; assistant director/second unit director, Craig Respol; casting, Betsy Fels. Reviewed at the Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica, July 1 , 1992 (in AFI/L.A. film fest). Running time: 90 min.

With

Julia - Diane Salinger
Charles - John Calvin
Grandma - Priscilla Pointer
Mac - George Clooney
Deborah - Colleen Camp
Dr. Block - Wallace Shawn
Letty - Shera Danese
Dooley - Nicholas Guest
Jake - Anthony Peck
Alfredo - Don Diamont
Leonard - Michael Greene
Susan - Dayle Haddon
Vanessa/Julia(age 4) - Lyndsay Riddell
Robert - Michael Boatman
Junior - Adam Ryen
Angel - Betsy Lynn George
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