Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dreaming of the 80's

Last night, to celebrate finishing all the homework I had to correct, I sat down to watch a movie with Barry. He had filled our Netflix queue with horror movies and film noir but said he was in the mood for something more light-hearted, so before he could object, I popped one of my favorite chick flicks into the VCR.

American Dreamer is part spy thriller, part alternate life fantasy, and part slapstick comedy. It was released in the same year as Romancing the Stone and probably aimed at the same target market. JoBeth Williams stars as Cathy Palmer, a housewife who wins a trip to Paris in a writing contest.

The beginning of the film is a little uneven; Williams is not entirely believable as a downtrodden corporate wife, and the physical comedy in the cooking scene with her two sons is a little forced, but she and the movie both hit their stride in France. On her first day there she’s hit by a car and regains consciousness thinking she’s Rebecca Ryan, the Modesty Blaise-like heroine of a series of suspense novels. She collects, in turn, a designer wardrobe, Rebecca Ryan’s glamorous apartment, and Alan McMann, whom she mistakenly identifies as Dmitri, Rebecca’s beloved (but gay) sidekick. Alan (played convincingly by Tom Conti) is actually the son of Margaret McMann, the author of the Rebecca Ryan novels; he initially assumes one of his friends has hired Cathy as an elaborate practical joke. As bizarre incidents pile up, he decides that she’s mentally ill instead – and then people start shooting at them, and all his assumptions fall to pieces.

The supporting cast includes Giancarlo Giannini as a prominent French politician, James Staley as Cathy’s clueless husband, and Coral Browne, priceless as Margaret McMann; the plot takes some interesting twists; and the whirlwind tour of early 80’s couturier fashions is fabulous. I’m only sorry that my VHS tape is so old it’s really starting to look faded. Fortunately, Paramount recently released the movie on DVD in its original widescreen format; I may ask for it as my Valentine’s Day present this year. After hearing how loudly Barry laughed at Alan McMann’s increasingly desperate attempts to maintain his grip on reality, I think I have a good chance of getting a new copy.

“I drink to Rebecca Ryan! She's the first real woman I have met in all of France.” ~Russian ambassador, American Dreamer

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