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Six Degrees of Separation not what you'd expect

Six Degrees of Separation

Directed by Fred Schepisi.

Written by John Guare.

Starring Stockard Channing,

Donald Sutherland, and Will Smith.

Loews Copley Place.

By Robert Marcato
Staff Reporter

The question I receive most when I tell people that I have seen and really liked this film is: "What is it about?" This, the most common of movie questions, is also the one that I dread the most, partially because it disappoints me that so few people have heard of this masterpiece of a movie, but mostly because it's so hard to answer.

There are many ways to respond to this question of what this movie is about. I can give you the expected plot summary: "It's about a young black guy, played by Will Smith ... you know, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Well uh he cons his way into the ritzy apartment of this upper-class, New York couple by pretending he's their children's college friend and the son of Sidney Poitier." The problem with this reply is you'll probably think that Six Degrees is somewhere between Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Different Strokes. Nevertheless, I can promise you that, no matter how you interpret this synopsis, what you to expect won't even be close to what you get.

My other possible response to the question is to tell you what this film is "all about", as I might say Philadelphia is all about AIDS or Schindler's List is all about the Holocaust. I've read several reviews of this film and have seen it described as any and all of the following: "a comedy of manners," "a drama of ideas," "a biting satire of New York pretentions," "a meditation on cultural breakdown," and "a rich, funny, and disturbing parable of life in the morally wormy Big Apple."

"Which is it," you ask. It is all of them, and more. Six Degrees takes these themes and elements of art, imagination, and reality and weaves them into a brilliant myriad of meaning. For audiences that are used to modern movies, which are lucky if they have one main message, this film's multiplicity of themes might make you leave the theater muttering "What did that mean?" over and over to yourself. But, whether you love or hate this feeling of ambiguity, I can promise you that it will be hard to stop thinking about this film and its haunting, dazzling style.

Right about now all the "normal" movie-goers have convinced themselves that Six Degrees is some artsy-fartsy film that you shouldn't see unless it's in the syllabus of some film class you're taking. But, please don't let me scare you away from it with all my reviewer-babble. Despite all the "meaning" I've assigned to it, this film is foremost a comedy, a satire. You can't help but watch it leaning forward with a big grin on your face. The screenplay, adapted from the script of John Guare's hit Broadway play, is one of the best I've ever seen. The script is supported by the performances of the film's three stars: Smith, slickly superb as the con man; Donald Sutherland, masterful as the art-dealing husband; and Stockard Channing, whose witty, wry, and magnificent portrayal of the high-society wife has brought her a Best Actress nomination. Brilliantly blended together by the hand of director Fred Schepisi, these elements make Six Degrees one of the best films of the year, and one you'll want to see again.