Film Reviews

Bummer Magic

A leg brace, a debilitating disease, sexual frustration, and Jackie Kennedy hair--breathes there a movie actress anywhere who could resist such fare? They're as seductive as Richard III's hump to the stage actor. Joanna Going straps it on--the leg brace, not the hump--and has a ball as the delicate heroine of Eden, an earnest schmaltzer that's almost as funny as There's Something About Mary, albeit not on purpose.

Going, a beautiful young brunette from soap operas who appeared in Wyatt Earp, How to Make an American Quilt and Nixon--she was the pure-hearted war protester at the Lincoln Memorial--plays Helen, a mid-1960s faculty wife at a New England prep school who's afflicted with multiple sclerosis. She's also afflicted with the inability to prevent purple New Age gibberish, some of it worthy of the pen of Ed Wood, from pouring out of her mouth. The film's high point comes when, in the middle of a school assembly, she starts blathering about the nature of the soul, much to the dismay of her husband Bill (Dylan Walsh).

Bill, a well-intentioned but conformist stick-in-the-mud, teaches economics, which writer-director Howard Goldberg means us to see as telling. The sight of his wife's leg brace has made Bill lose interest in her sexually. Boarding in the house Helen and Bill share with their two kids are three preppies, one of whom, Dave (Sean Patrick Flanery), has no such bigotry against leg braces, when somebody wears one as fetchingly as Helen does.

We're meant to see Dave, an aspiring writer whose favorite book is Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, as a passionate, smoldering rebel. But Flanery, who played the title role in Powder, comes off more as a mopey kid with bad posture. Even the dullard Bill seems more attractive.

The real theme of Eden, however, is more cosmic than romantic--it's about astral projection. As Helen grows weaker, both from her illness and from Bill's refusal to permit her to work outside the home, she becomes less and less attached to her body, and in her dreams her soul flies free. Goldberg indicates this by, every now and then, splicing in some footage of clouds or psychedelic light whooshing past the camera--they could be floor-sweeping clips from the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Goldberg's only previous feature credit as a director is Apple Pie, an obscure, barely released gangster comedy of 1975. His big claim to fame is as the director of Rod Stewart's "Sailing" video. Apart from the clunky attempts at visual wonder, his directorial touch is unobtrusive, but, as a writer, he may be the least subtle evoker of period ever--the '60s catch phrases land like sacks of wet sand. You can almost see the actors cringing when they have to say "Far out, man!" or "Don't trust anyone over 30," or even, and I'm not kidding, "Don't bogart that joint." Mixed in with the contemporary hits are a few oldies but goodies: Bill says to his doctor, "Better safe than sorry," to which the doc replies, "Yes, and a stitch in time saves nine. We could go on like this all day." So it appears.

I think my favorite line, however--apart from Helen's head-scratching metaphysical arias--follows the scene in which Dave kisses Helen goodbye in her hospital bed, full on the lips, while Bill looks on. Bill's withering response to the kid's affront? "You can kiss cross-country goodbye." Having kissed the guy's gorgeous wife goodbye right in front of him, Dave probably regards the trade-off as worth it.

Directed by Howard Goldberg; with Joanna Going.