Good intentions aren't enough for 'Alan and Naomi'

February 21, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Alan and Naomi" means so well that you feel like Simon Legree or Pauline Kael in not caring for it. But there it is, earnest and "humanitarian" and pretty dull.

Set in a flimsily evoked Brooklyn of 1944 (actually the Wilmington, N.C., of 1991) it's the story of young Alan Silverman, who wants nothing more than to play stickball with his Irish pal Shaun Kelly. Alas, a Holocaust refugee and her deeply traumatized daughter move in next door, and Alan's strong, rather oppressively do-gooding mother decides that henceforth Alan will devote his spare time to nursing this poor child back to humanity.

Alan resents, but grimly does his duty, and the movie somewhat glibly summarizes Alan's brilliant program of therapy as he nurses Naomi back to health in about seven or eight minutes. The film in some sense brings to mind Frank Perry's haunting but much more vivid mind-drama of the late '50s, "David and Lisa," also about two lonely and disturbed adolescents brought back to health. It's just that Perry's film was so much better.

Most of the characters are ethnic stereotypes -- tough Irish kids, sensitive Jewish kids, Portnoyesque mothers and Portnoyesque fathers -- and a feeling of the streets is conspicuously absent from the film. The performances are fine, particularly the two children, Lukas Haas as Alan and Vanessa Zaoui as Naomi. But could someone tell me why the parents, Sol and Ruth (Michael Gross and Amy Aquino) stay together. They don't like each other very much, it seems.

"Alan and Naomi"

Starring Lukas Haas and Michael Gross.

Directed by Sterling Vanwagenen.

Released by Triton Pictures.

Rated PG-13.


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