Love and starving artists make for 'Merry War' Movie Review

October 16, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Gordon and Rosemary would make the perfect couple, except for one thing: She's impossibly practical, he's practically impossible.

He's an advertising copywriter who fancies himself a poet and a free spirit; she's an advertising artist who fancies herself an advertising artist and enjoys living her structured little life. The problem is, they really do love each other. Can this thing ever work?

"A Merry War," adapted from George Orwell's "Keep the Aspidistra Flying," has great fun exploring the possibilities while playing with the issue of whether starving artists are really truer to their art simply because they can't afford to eat. The result is a lightweight confection of a film highlighted by wonderfully fey performances from Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham Carter.

The movie opens with Grant's Gordon, the best copywriter at a 1930s British ad agency, happily throwing off the shackles of the proletariat -- his book of poems has been reviewed favorably by the Times of London, which naturally means he's only a verse or two away from literary immortality. So he quits his job, tells Rosemary (a marvelously deadpan Carter) how wonderful it is to be free, and sets about writing.

He's also living off the kindness of others, particularly his sister, Julia (Harriet Walter), who earns a few pounds a week as a waitress, hardly enough to support both of them. But none of that matters to Gordon: He's young, he's free, and dang it, he's a poet!

Naturally, things don't work out as he'd planned. As anyone who's ever tried to make a living putting pen to paper can attest, it's a lot easier to write than it is to persuade someone to pay for the writing.

And even when things finally break his way, poor Gordon is so unprepared for success -- so bitter at a world he sees as all-too-anxious to squander his talents -- that it only makes things worse.

Although it's tempting to write Gordon off, since there's precious little that's endearing about the guy, Grant is too ingratiating an actor to let that happen. And no one plays a proper British lass with a mischievous twinkle in her eye better than Carter. Together, they make "A Merry War" quite a merry film indeed.

'A Merry War'

Starring Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by Robert Bierman

Released by First Look Pictures

Unrated (language, sexual situations)

Running time: 101 minutes

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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