Review: ‘Somebody is Waiting’

Nobody will be waiting for "Somebody Is Waiting" once word gets out. Despite OK playing by Gabriel Byrne and Nastassja Kinski as a mixed-up teen's parents, this muddled coming-of-age psychodrama is capsized by a silly script that fails to illumine its subject and just keeps on getting sillier. Vidbin hell and small-hours cable loom for this first production from L.A.-based indie Redhead Films, headed by Moscow-born Natasha Doubrovskaya. Leon (Johnny Whitworth) is a dysfunctional 18-year-old who idolizes his mom (Kinski) and resents his father (Byrne), who walked out on the family a while ago. Leon's perilous world is on the verge of collapse: After being arrested for drunk driving, he's asked to move out by his mother, who fears he is becoming a bad influence on his brothers and sisters. Worse, she's then shot dead by some bank robbers while setting up a checking account for him, and Leon himself is seriously injured.

While Leon’s recovering, his dad returns and tries to patch things up with his children. But his old habits of drinking and violence return, and during one altercation with Leon he ends up braining himself on the fireplace. Fearing the accident will be misinterpreted by the police, Leon buries the body in the garden and goes on the run, increasingly haunted by visions of his mother in which she says she is “waiting” for him.

Pic has the feel of a personal project for Argentine-born writer-director Martin Donovan, who made a mark in the late ’80s with the political-psychological drama “Apartment Zero” but has failed to match that promise since then. (His last helming stint was the unconvincing werewolfer “Mad at the Moon,” with Hart Bochner and Mary Stuart Masterson, made in 1992.) Still, despite familiar devices like interspersing the action with home-movie footage of the kid and his parents, Donovan fails to shed much light on his central character’s problems other than putting them down to growing pains.

Character development is minimal, the kid’s visions of his mother increasingly laughable, and dialogue resolutely uninteresting. Just in case we missed the point, a final voiceover notes that Leon is actually, guess what, “running from himself.” Given the central character’s dead-end relationship with his g.f., Lilli (a nothing role for “Beverly Hills, 90210” regular Rebecca Gayheart), his outsider status, adoration of his mother, and the intense male relationships throughout, the pic, like both “Zero” and “Moon,” could even be read as an oblique coming-to-terms-with-gayness allegory. That still doesn’t excuse its clunky dramatics and misfired fantasy elements.

In key but relatively compact roles, Byrne and Kinski are reliable, with the latter unfortunately reduced to an ethereal madonna-like vision just when she’s getting interesting. Whitworth does the whole handsome-brooding-teen number but lacks the smarts to keep the movie on course when it starts jumping the rails about halfway through. Shirley Knight is wasted in a bit as the family’s housekeeper.

Technical credits are fine throughout, with rich, saturated colors by lenser Gregory Gardiner and a soaring, Morricone-ish score by Donovan regular Elia Cmiral. Film was shot in four weeks around the Santa Cruz, Calif., area.

Somebody is Waiting

Production

A Redhead Films production. Produced by Natasha Doubrovskaya, Pascale Faubert. Executive producer, Michail Watford. Co-producer, Gabriel Byrne. Directed, written by Martin Donovan.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Greg Gardiner; editors, John Lafferty, Sean K. Lambert, Chip Masamitsu; music, Elia Cmiral; production design, Stephen Greenberg; costume design, Leonard Pollack; sound (Dolby), James Thornton; associate producer, Vanessa Lasky; assistant director, Paul N. Martin. Reviewed at London Film Festival, Nov. 11, 1996. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Roger Ellis Gabriel Byrne Charlotte Ellis Nastassja Kinski Leon Ellis Johnny Whitworth Lilli Rebecca Gayheart Irma Gill Shirley Knight Clayton Ellis Brian Donovan Daniel Gary Bairos
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