As 'Angie,' Geena Davis is the right character in the wrong movie

March 04, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Angie," I says, shaddup awreaddy.

The trials and tribulations of an unmarried woman in Brooklyn, "Angie" showcases Geena Davis in a convincingly against-type performance in a story that is unconvincingly with-type.

To get into it, you have to love the Hollywood version of the working-class New York thing, which begins with the concept, derived from Damon Runyon stories of so long ago, that the Italian-Americans of Bensonhurst are quaint, amusing subtypes, FTC not human beings at all. You've got to love that hard yammer of Brooklynese as filtered through a sentimental Hollywood ear, where every th transmutes into a d and the standard form of rhetoric is verbal hostility.

The movie has a great shot in it: In the early going, in 1972, the young Angie sits on her stoop wondering what will become of her now that her mother has abandoned her; there's a kind of burst of light and it's suddenly both 1972 and 1994 as the grown-up Angie walks by her. The two share a strange, impossible moment across the gulfs of time, the girl that was, the woman that is. It's magic.

But little else is. Angie is more or less with Vinnie the plumber (beware of any movie with a Vinnie the plumber in it), played by James Gandolfini, who was so good in "True Romance." It appears to be the kind of relationship that feels 50 years old and neither can remember what they liked about the other person. When she gets pregnant and Vinnie proposes, it should be the first day of the rest of her life. But secretly, like so many others in the world, Angie longs for something else.

For what? Maybe a nice trip to a museum? The ballet? Maybe the opera? Well, her plumber boyfriend just can't think in those terms. Moreover, no one in her world credits these aspirations: Angie, they says, youse is going tru a "stage."

But on her own one day, Angie goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and who should she meet but a shaggy-headed dream man, "sensitive" and intellectual. Why, it's the confused terrorist from "The Crying Game," Stephen Rea, whose sly charm and lulling accent soon lures her into his bed and out of Gandolfini's. Yet the tragedy of Angie is that she's going to learn that men who hang out in art museums can be just as jerky as men who hang out in plumbing supply shops.

As Angie's pregnancy progresses, it's not only her physical weight but her mental weight that increases: specifically, the sense of loss she feels over her disappeared mother, her despair over finding the woman and her awareness that something is wrong. When she asks her father the butcher (Philip Bosco), he grows irritable.

After the birth scene -- very tough stuff, so be forewarned, those of you who haven't done your delivery-room duty -- Angie's anxieties seem to quadruple; soon, she's fled her motherhood to find the secret of her mother's disappearance.

Davis is great. Somewhat like the Jill Clayburgh of "An Unmarried Woman," she's a brave buccaneer who has determined to chart her own way; she sails through the crowds of Brooklyn a whole head taller than others of her tribe, her face radiant with hope, her mouth taut with grit. She's got big hair, bright clothes, red juicy lips (usually working on a couple of sticks of Juicy Fruit) and a carbon steel attitude.

Alas, the brilliance of Davis' performance is eventually squandered in the emotional bathos of the plot: It's full of crying and reconciliations and heart-to-hearts. It seems to dither as it decides which movie it wants to be -- Angie with the Irish Swell, Angie and Dad, Angie and Louise, Angie and Vinnie the Plumber, even the lowest of the low, the Oh-my-God-the-baby-is-sick movie.

"Angie"

Starring Geena Davis and James Gandolfini

Directed by Martha Coolidge

Released by Hollywood Pictures

R rated

** 1/2

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