Tom DiCillo's "The Real Blonde" pillories the shallow realms of fashion advertising, rock videos and soap operas while championing the search for sincere romance and rewarding work in the big city. Enjoyable, if sometimes scattered, comic exploration of the quest for integrity and depth in a world wowed by artifice and superficiality.

Tom DiCillo’s “The Real Blonde” pillories the shallow realms of fashion advertising, rock videos and soap operas while championing the search for sincere romance and rewarding work in the big city. Enjoyable, if sometimes scattered, comic exploration of the quest for integrity and depth in a world wowed by artifice and superficiality should yield DiCillo’s most encouraging B.O. yet, although helmer’s sweetly skewed universe may still prove too insular to rack up truly impressive returns. Paramount has skedded domestic release for next February.

Wielding the spry irreverence and quirky humor that characterized “Johnny Suede,” “Living in Oblivion” and “Box of Moonlight,” iconoclastic helmer offers insights into the nature of modern coupledom and scores a handful of quotable comic set pieces. But pic’s multi-character narrative sometimes meanders and loses its edge, particularly in the household exchanges between its two central cash-strapped protagonists.

Joe (Matthew Modine) and Mary (Catherine Keener) have been living together in Manhattan for six years. At age 35, aspiring actor Joe has no thesping credits and no agent, but clings to his lofty principles and refines his audition monologue while waitering for a catering outfit run by fastidious Ernst (Christopher Lloyd, in a nice turn). Mary pays most of the couple’s bills via her job as a makeup stylist for hotshot fashion photog Blair (Marlo Thomas), whose prize model is Sahara (Bridgette Wilson), a self-effacing bottle-blonde given to holding forth on the “deeply spiritual” essence of “The Little Mermaid.”

Mary works through her latent resentment and aggression with her not-always-helpful therapist (Buck Henry) and falsely solicitous self-defense instructor (Denis Leary). Joe, meanwhile, lowers his standards for casting agent Dee Dee (Kathleen Turner) and accepts a degrading bit in a Madonna video. He keeps crossing temptation’s path with Tina (Elizabeth Berkley), an aspiring thesp whose hair color is as stable as a two-legged stool.

Joe’s insouciant friend and fellow waiter Bob (Maxwell Caulfield) lands a high-paying job on a soap, playing hunky cad Dirk Drake opposite siren Kelly (Daryl Hannah). Obsessed with finding a woman whose golden tresses are genuine, Bob beds many a lass, only to find emotional satisfaction elusive.

DiCillo sends up sexism and objectification of women throughout and scores a hilarious and morally resonant bull’s-eye with a near Woody Allen-caliber attack on Holocaust revisionism. Among other grist for the comic mill is a restaurant scene during which a discussion of “Il Piano” charges up a room full of opinionated New Yorkers, the plot contortions of the soap, and trendy photo shoots during which every offhand remark, physical imperfection or faux pas manages to translate into an inadvertent artistic breakthrough.

But despite onscreen titles denoting the passage of time, traffic control of the narrative roundelay is occasionally too abrupt or arbitrary to lend venture a perfect pedigree.

Populous cast displays appropriate urban energy. Modine is OK, if not especially memorable, as the low-profile actor with sky-high standards. Radiating buckets of hunky charm, Caulfield is perfectly cast, as is Hannah as his small-screen foil and demanding offscreen conquest.

Keener grounds the proceedings with her Everywoman brunette demeanor, and Berkley and Wilson sally forth for the hard-working blond contingent.

Hep-cat score and alternately claustrophobic and quasi-lavish production design nail the private and public moods of Manhattan. Lensing and editing are fine.

The Real Blonde

Production

A Paramount release (in U.S.)/Diaphana (in France) release of a Lakeshore Entertainment presentation of a Marcus Viscidi production. (International sales: Lakeshore Intl., L.A.) Produced by Viscidi, Tom Rosenberg. Executive producers, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Ted Tannebaum. Directed, written by Tom DiCillo.

Crew

Camera (color), Frank Prinzi; editor, Camilla Toniolo; music, Jim Farmer; production design, Christopher A. Nowak; set decoration, Gordon Sim; costume design, Jennifer Von Mayrhauser; sound (Dolby digital), Tom Mather, Matthew Price; assistant director, Bruce Speyer; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at Deauville Festival of American Cinema (noncompeting), Sept. 14, 1997. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Joe - Matthew Modine
Mary - Catherine Keener
Kelly - Daryl Hannah
Bob - Maxwell Caulfield
Tina - Elizabeth Berkley
Blair - Marlo Thomas
Sahara - Bridgette Wilson
With: Buck Henry, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner, Denis Leary.
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