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Unimaginative Love Field never rises above mediocrity

Love Field
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan.
Written by Don Roos.
Starring Michelle Pfieffer, Dennis Haysbert,
and Brian Kerwin.
Loews Copley Place
By Chris Roberge
Arts Editor

After sitting on a shelf somewhere in the vaults of the financially strapped Orion Pictures, Love Field, a film made three years ago, is finally undergoing a theatrical release. When the studio entered into bankruptcy proceedings early last year, this Michelle Pfieffer vehicle was among many movies thrust into some sort of limbo state with no clear end in sight. As the 1992 Oscar season rolled around, however, Orion decided to give the film a chance, primarily because it was believed that Pfieffer stood a good chance of receiving one of the best actress nominations to be named this morning. Unfortunately, Pfieffer fanatics are probably the only people with an adequate reason to see this disappointing drama. With a story that is both predictable and dated, Love Field is a technically well-made and well-meaning movie that nonetheless fails to rise above mediocrity.

In the film, Michelle Pfieffer plays Laurene, a Dallas beautician who is obsessed with the lives of the current president, John Kennedy, and his wife, Jackie. When the couple arrive in Dallas in late November of 1963, Laurene even convinces her invalid neighbor to accompany her to the airport so that she can use the woman's injury as an excuse to push to the front of the eager crowd. Of course, that afternoon Kennedy is assassinated, and Laurene is devastated. The already frail woman has all of the energy instantly sucked out of her and she is left pale and stunned, staggering slowly into nearby restaurants and shops to tell everyone else the tragic news and to stare shocked at the television as the news of the president's death is told to the nation by a visibly shaken Walter Cronkite.

When she returns home, Laurene tells her husband (Brian Kerwin) that she feels obligated to attend the public funeral and pay respect to the man whom she says was "the only one I ever voted for." Her husband strongly rejects the idea as frivolous and silly, but Laurene sneaks out at night and heads east on a bus.

Along the way, she gets to know a black man, Paul Cater (Dennis Haysbert), and his daughter, who are going home to be reunited with the rest of their family. Laurene is drawn to the two, in part because the young girl reminds her of the daughter whom she lost, but also because she is a talkative busybody who will introduce herself to nearly anyone who will give her a chance. She soon uncovers secrets about the man and girl, though, and after a series of mishaps the three are driving to Washington D.C. not only to get to the funeral but also to avoid the FBI.

Pfieffer and Haysbert give good performances, Ralf Bode's cinematography renders this a very attractive film, and Jonathan Kaplan's smooth direction never rushes or delays the plot. As the story of Love Field unfolds, though, it ventures too often into familiar and expected territory while relying on trite stereotypes to portray its characters. When Laurene calls home to explain to her husband what she is doing, he paces back and forth, running his hand through his hair and yelling, "Jesus, Laurene! Where the hell are you?" This guy should get together with Thelma's husband from Thelma and Louise sometime. The relationship between Laurene and Paul offers few surprises as well. When the two begin to get to know each other, they act fairly pleasantly towards one another while occasionally throwing subtle insults into their conversations which reveal the unease they feel. After noticing Laurene's vacuousness, Paul offers her his magazine, commenting, "You want this? I'm finished. It's got lots of pictures." And in one ridiculous moment, as Paul tries to wake Laurene up she jumps upon seeing him, saying, "Jeez, you scared me. Just like the bogeyman." All of these apprehensions have left, though, in time for the inevitable scene in which Laurene delicately washes the wounds of the topless Paul, looking into his eyes and admitting, "I guess you think I'm crazy." "No, Laurene. I don't think that," he quietly replies. This is even more cartoonish here than it was in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

But the biggest disappointment of the film is the unimaginative way with which the film deals with the interracial romance of Laurene and Paul, and the racism that he is subjected to. Paul is a quiet and soft-spoken black man, and Laurene's husband is a rude and insensitive white man. Which one do you think she will find more attractive? The movie removes any challenge to Laurene, or the audience, by distilling the men to the poles of saint and sinner. Similarly, Love Field never becomes daring when it deals with racism. The film does do a good job of suggesting how society's fascination with the better aspects of the Kennedy administration may have blinded them to the problems which still existed. At one ironic point Laurene stands in the middle of a decrepit town and says about Kennedy to Paul and another black man, "He done a lot for you people." And the visceral blow the film delivers with the assassination is small relative to that of a scene in which Paul is savagely beaten in front of his daughter by some good old boys. But who wouldn't react strongly to these scenes? At times the movie becomes little else then an excuse for audience members to pat themselves on the backs for not being rednecks.

This is a problem that all films which deal with the bigotry of the past deal with. Few movies attempt to provoke audiences as much as in, for example, Malcolm X, in which Malcolm refers the Kennedy assassination as a time for "chickens coming home to roost," bringing the white man's violence back to him in a fatal backfire. Sometimes, as was the case with Driving Miss Daisy, sublime craftmanship lifts the movie above its dated nature. This does not happen with Love Field. Although it is far from being a bad film, it never becomes a truly good one, and it ultimately seems like a movie which has been sitting on a shelf for 10 times longer than it actually has been.