'Truly, Madly, Deeply' amusing, but only for about an hour

MOVIE REVIEW

October 24, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The only problem with "Truly, Madly, Deeply," which opens today at the Charles, is that it goes on endlessly, remorselessly, self-indulgently.

This is deeply, truly, adverb-madly a shame, because for about an hour, it's quite amusing. It has been called a British "Ghost," since both it and the American film are about a young woman whose dead lover returns to her to complete a special mission. But of course "Truly" is nowhere near as sleek as the Paramount money machine. A cultural anthropologist could earn a Ph.D. just tracking the nuances that the different cultures bring to what is essentially the same story, beginning with the stars.

The Americans -- you know who they were -- were forbidingly handsome cartoons, with glamour jobs and wardrobes to die for and no discernible inner lives. By contrast, Nina (Juliet Stevenson) and Jamie (Alan Rickman) are somewhat bumpily constructed real people who mumble, have drab jobs and dress like dowds. But they are somehow more alive: Nina's fiery social conscience isn't grafted on as a character signature, it somehow is her very essence.

And there's nothing showy in her grief over her lover's death: It's crushing and total, and when she lets go, her tears are wet and savage; they blow her face out like a beating.

Thus one night, when Jamie appears (without special effects; he's just there) it's as though her life has been saved. Jamie has one of those self-deprecating wits and is as good a listener as he is a talker; the intimacy of his syncopation with her and the portrait of their love that derives from it is the purest achievement of the movie.

But it turns out that the truest meaning of Jamie's love isn't to celebrate the life he had with her but to give her the life she must have without him. In an American film, this would have involved considerable melodrama; in the British, the mechanism is much subtler -- Jamie turns . . . really irritating.

In one daft comic extravaganza, he brings other ghosts over to watch videos and they begin to pick on Nina because she accidentally taped "Annie Hall" over "Manhattan." (Now that's genius!) He throws out her carpets. He makes her get all his knickknacks out.

Rickman has had great success in American movies playing suave, ironic villains (he saved "Die Hard" and he was "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves"). Those are easy roles in cartoons, however; how nice it is to see him working with subtler materials, letting us see parts of Jamie, letting us see the many men inside him.

But it's as if writer-director Anthony Minghella is afraid he'll never get to make another movie so he's going to make this one last as long as possible. The essential point is made, the symbolic transfer from old dead love to new live love (Michael Maloney, very good as a hapless psychologist) is made . . . and then . . . the movie just won't . . . go away. The last 10 minutes is a reiteration of what we already knew three times.

Stop the movie, you find yourself crying, I want to get off.

'Truly, Madly, Deeply'

Starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman.

Directed by Anthony Minghella.

Released by Miramax.

Unrated.

** 1/2

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