On stage, Jonathan Tolins' "The Twilight of the Golds" had that fairly intelligent yet pat issue-of-the-week telepic feel. Though he and director Ross Marks have done a creditable enough job of "opening up" their property, some crucial miscasting aside, this drama about genetics, domestic politics and homosexuality seems no more at home on the bigscreen. "Twilight" will find its true home when producer Showtime preems it later this winter.
On stage, Jonathan Tolins’ “The Twilight of the Golds” had that fairly intelligent yet pat issue-of-the-week telepic feel. Though he and director Ross Marks have done a creditable enough job of “opening up” their property, some crucial miscasting aside, this drama about genetics, domestic politics and homosexuality seems no more at home on the bigscreen. “Twilight” will find its true home when producer Showtime preems it later this winter.
Title is a Wagnerian pun: During the action time span, narrator David (Brendan Fraser) is busy mounting an avant-garde theater production of the entire “Ring” cycle. He and sis Suzanne (Jennifer Beals) are offspring of doting , suburban-Jewish Golds Phyllis (Faye Dunaway) and Walter (Garry Marshall). They’re a pleasant, lively lot, though their clannishness tends to irk Suzanne’s genetic-researcher hubby, Rob (Jon Tenney), whose own sternly orthodox Jewish parents have never been supportive. At least he rates inclusion at the Gold family conclaves, a courtesy denied David’s affable male lover, Steven (Sean O’Bryan).
The limits of everyone’s tolerance are further exposed when Suzanne announces her first pregnancy. This news delights all at first. Then fetal genetic testing (encouraged by Rob’s coolly inquisitive boss, played by John Schlesinger) reveals the baby will most probably be “like David,” a physically healthy boy, albeit with the chromosome scientifically associated as determining homosexuality. Rob and Suzanne are no longer thrilled. Do they really want a gay child? Is it better to spare him a life of societal marginalizing?
Arguments pro and con make up the script’s heart. But while Tolins excels at witty throwaway lines, his Big Scenes sport a more heavy-handedly instructive, all-bases-covered telepic tenor. Director Marks’ tech gambits, including Altman-ish overlapping dialogue, “Real World”-style wobbly lensing and gimmicky editing, try to impose verite feel on stagy material with uneven success.
Suzanne consults the folks. News inevitably leaks back to David. He confronts Mom and Pop; while avowing their parental love, they can’t deny that they, too, might have considered abortion under similar circumstances. Appalled, David cuts off communication.
We never quite believe the educated, affectionate Golds would harbor such deep-seated homophobia. In the stage play, Tolins at least bolstered that contrivance by leaving David unreconciled, his family’s prejudices shaken yet unswayed. Here, however, a cloying happy ending makes the prior tempest seem less credible.
Principals don’t match up as a convincing biological family, but there are bigger problems here. Carrying the histrionic brunt, Beals is way out of her depth; various suffering poses stay skin-deep. Outfitted with a modified Susan Sontag “do,” Dunaway is ludicrously miscast. Her over-the-top Yiddish-mama mannerisms work well enough for laugh lines, but invite less kind laughter elsewhere. Fraser is likewise too WASP-y by half. Yet he anchors the film by limning David’s anger and cutting wit via attractive understatement.
Marshall and other support players are fine within sometimes stereotypical role limits. Rosie O’Donnell turns up to deliver snappy comic relief as Suzanne’s dress-shop co-worker. Tenney’s thoughtful presence as Rob is undercut by cloudy motivations and one crucial spousal confrontation bizarrely staged to exploit shower-stall beefcake, framed just a (pubic) hair short of full-frontal disclosure.
“The Twilight of the Golds” is too patly calculated to lend its hot-button science-vs.-morality issues the sorely needed credence of messy human emotions. Still, it’s pacey and watchable. Slick package is marred by incidental music whose wispy, wordless female vocals strike a silly note.