Eddie (Sean Penn), a second-tier Hollywood player, is slowly
realizing that Hollywood is a bad place to be if you feel things too
deeply. His roommate and business partner Mickey (Kevin Spacey) thrives
on a callous disregard for anything but immediate satisfaction; his friend
Phil (Chazz Palminteri), a struggling actor, drifts into instability as he
tries to save his failing marriage. In an environment where a homeless
teenager (Anna Paquin) becomes a sexual "Care Package" from a colleague
(Garry Shandling), Eddie is frustrated in his every attempt to make a
genuine human connection. His life is a HURLYBURLY -- emotional
turbulence occasionally interrupted by attempts at communication that come
out "blah blah blah."
It's always in fashion to take a stab at the shallow white underbelly
of Tinseltowners, but HURLYBURLY -- adapted by David Rabe from his play --
offers more than cheap shot industry-bashing. At its heart it's a study
of a man who has set himself up for perpetual disappointment by being
tempermentally incompatible with the people who surround him. Eddie fumes
when Mickey pursues Darlene (Robin Wright Penn), a woman in whom Eddie is
interested, foolishly ascribing scruples to Mickey; he is haunted by the
image of a 6-year-old girl watching her mother perform oral sex, an
incident Mickey barely recalls; he explodes when Darlene describes an
abortion with the same ambivalence she applies to deciding where to have
dinner. Sean Penn brings his edge-of-control intensity to Eddie,
investing him with a savage humanity that can't be deadened by sex and
drugs no matter how hard he tries. It's a riveting performance as one of
the best-written characters of the year.
David Rabe's writing has the familiar rhythm of another playwright
named David -- Mamet -- giving the dialogue the snap of exchanged gunfire.
HURLYBURLY always feels like a film adaptation of a stage play, with the
action centered at all times on character interaction, which is not to say
that it's static or visually uncompelling. Director Anthony Drazan serves
up some nice visual flourishes (a casket being lowered into the ground to
reveal the Paramount water tower in the background, a cell phone
conversation between cars driving side by side), and at least one scene of
impressive tension involving a razor and a revelation. This is certainly
a piece for actors above all, with a uniformly stellar cast -- be prepared
to be surprised by Meg Ryan in a small role as a stripper -- but it's not
a film where the camera sets up simply for people to deliver monologues.
HURLYBURLY feels like its setting: smooth and slick, with something dark
bubbling just underneath.
It's easy to get caught up in one element of a film's tone,
particularly if previous films on a similar subject have led you to expect
that sort of tone. Yes, HURLYBURLY is dark -- there are unhappy people
who spend most of their time swearing, snorting or debasing other unhappy
people, there is violence, and there is death. There is also a strangely
touching friendship between Eddie and Phil which may be an insurance
policy for Eddie against successful friends who could desert him, but
could also be the only thing that saves his soul. There are moments of
raw emotion that come from unexpected places and take unexpected forms.
And there is the hope that a man can remember how to care. Those who see
this as just another nihilistic stroll down Hollywood Boulevard aren't
looking closely enough. HURLYBURLY may be talky, but the talk isn't
cheap. That shallow white underbelly has rarely run this deep.
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 Hollywood signs: 9.
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