Some delightfully quirky Tom McGuane characters make it to the little screen with their idiosyncrasies relatively intact, which at the very least guarantees stretched-out people worth caring and rooting for. But this telepic delivers even more, as the fine performances and the ambience of Montana’s Paradise Valley make it an engaging experience.
Joe Starling (William Petersen), a Montana native who has both a painting block and commitment block, bolts from the L.A. beach scene to the family ranch, imperiled by the villainous land baron Overstreet (Jack Palance), not to mention his own bumbling uncle Smitty (Buck Henry).
Running a ranch is difficult under the best of circumstances or, to paraphrase McGuane, leaving a ranch to your children constitutes an egregious form of child abuse. But Joe embraces the challenge of ranching with a masochistic fervor, while coping with a near-debilitating range of family, woman and business troubles.
Joe has an L.A. woman and a Montana woman: Astrid (Rachel Ticotin) is the no-nonsense, urban-assertive live-in from L.A., while Ellen (Lolita Davidovich) is the former girlfriend, a consummate small-town provocateur, not to mention the daughter of Overstreet and wife of Joe’s high school buddy, Billy (Jeff Kober). Exceedingly well played, these women constitute irresistible temptations and inevitable disasters.
Petersen, a generally unappreciated actor, develops a character with range and credibility. Henry’s fumbling uncle is every nephew’s worst nightmare while Palance is the perfect town bully whose muscle is a big bank account.
McGuane does not naturally translate to the screen, but writer John Miglis delivers a fine adaptation, which director Andy Tennant executes with authority.
The pace is leisurely, the characters richly nuanced and the story filled with interesting turns. Mix that with the Yellowstone River and the Absaroka Mountain Range, and one has a delightful dramatic and comedic escape from the grim realities of urban and suburban America.