She's So Lovely
Screenplay : John Cassavetes
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Sean Penn (Eddie), Robin Wright Penn (Maureen), John Travolta (Joey), Harry Dean Stanton (Shorty), Debi Mazar (Georgie), James Gandolfini (Kiefer), Kelsey Mulrooney (Jeanie)
The only way to approach "She's So Lovely" is with the understanding that everyone in the film is crazy in one way or another. Their decisions are illogical and often infuriating, and the movie has no pretension of passing judgment on them or even understanding why they are the way they are. You must come to this film with the anticipation that little or nothing about these characters makes sense, because if you try to understand them, you will be completely frustrated.
Personally, I am not a big fan of this kind of film, and I have to admit this movie frustrated me. I don't mind crazy characters, but I like to have some kind of reasoning behind their mania. In movies like "She's So Lovely," the characters' weirdness is just taken for granted with no frame of reference, and it gives license for the filmmakers to do almost anything, because it can be explained away. Remember, they're crazy -- it doesn't have to make sense.
The film was directed by Nick Cassavetes, the son of legendary actor and pioneer independent writer/director John Cassavetes, who wrote the script. The elder Cassavetes had originally intended to direct and star in the film himself back in the 1970s, but he was never able to get the project off the ground before he died in 1989. While his son's directing style is much more controlled and refined than his father's, he respects the manic people which are so dear to his father. Alcoholism, insanity, and violence are all at the heart of "She's So Lovely," although at times it's intended to play as a comedy.
The film opens with Maureen (Robin Wright Penn), waking up in a drunken stupor to find that her husband, Eddie Quinn (Sean Penn) is still missing after three days. She's pregnant, and apparently Eddie is having trouble dealing with that fact, so he tends to disappear for days at a time. She goes down to the seedy, smoke-filled local bar where Eddie usually hangs out, but his best friend Shorty (Harry Dean Stanton) hasn't seen him. Maureen ends up having drinks with her neighbor, Kiefer (James Gandolfini), and when they go back up to his apartment, he attacks her and beats her up.
Maureen is terrified that Eddie will find out Kiefer beat her up, because she knows Eddie is slightly imbalanced and has an intense violent streak. So, when she finally finds him, she lies and says she fell. It doesn't take Eddie long to figure out what happened, and he goes after Kiefer with a gun. Maureen calls the local mental institution to pick Eddie up, and when the orderlies arrive to take him away, Eddie shoots on of them in the stomach. He is eventually caught by the police, and locked up in the institution.
Fast forward ten years, and Maureen has cleaned herself up, gotten off drugs, divorced Eddie, stopped wearing heavy black eye make-up, and is now married to a rich contractor named Joey (John Travolta). She and Joey have three daughters, one of whom is actually Eddie's, and they live in comfortable suburban splendor. Unfortunately, that splendor is disrupted when Eddie is released from the institution, and comes looking for Maureen, sure that he still loves her and she still loves him. In fact, he's absolutely right. Maureen tells Joey to his face the morning Eddie is being released, "I love you, but I love him more."
"She's So Lovely" begins and ends very abruptly. Many people will be extremely baffled by it, especially because the previews made it look like a quirky romantic comedy. The movie seems to want to tell a simple story, but it has everything going against it. It comes at you in sudden bursts, and there is little explanation about characters or situations. For instance, Maureen-Eddie and Maureen-Joey is bridged with a black screen and the titles "Ten Years Later." There movie doesn't go into how and why Maureen and Joey got together and, more importantly, why their marriage seems so unhappy.
Although it's readily apparent that Maureen will most likely leave Joey for Eddie, you don't feel sorry for Joey because he's a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, boor of a man. Was he like this when Maureen first met him? If he was, is it because she's naturally attracted to crude, violent men? In fact, the movie doesn't give us anyone to identify with (unless you're a sociopath), so we are given the strange opportunity to sit back and not take sides while Maureen, Eddie, Joey and even Shorty fight it out in the living room like a sitcom on acid.
The saving grace of "She's So Lovely" are the performances, especially Sean Penn's which won him top honors at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. His Eddie is a constant enigma, ranging from fiercely violent to almost child-like passivity. Travolta plays strongly against type, and it is only his insensitive idiocy that adds any laughs to the film. Robin Wright Penn, who is married to Sean Penn in real life, gives an affecting performance as the woman caught in the middle (although her New York accent is a bit overbearing at times). She is the most confusing character because you keep wanting to believe that she is sane, when in fact, she may be the craziest person in the whole movie.
"She's So Lovely" is really more of a curiosity piece than anything else. It's not really satisfying as a well-told story or as a character study, so it can only be taken as an off-beat movie that defies all the typical rules of comedy and drama. Not for all tastes, but some will find it quite fascinating, although I wasn't one of them.
©1998 James Kendrick