I don't even want to think about what it portends that a film as good as Stanley Tucci's Blind Date has had to wait almost two years for distribution. It's not a healthy sign, to be sure.
Oh, who am I kidding? The bottom has dropped out of the market for serious films, independent or otherwise. Bread and circuses -- audiences just want diversion. they want mindless entertainment that doesn't force them to think -- about their own lives or the world at large. The only place to consistently find quality original drama these days is on cable TV.
Part of what was originally intended to be a trio of American films based on films by the late Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (the first was Steve Buscemi's Interview; the third one wasn't made), Blind Date premiered at Sundance '08 and has spent the subsequent months looking for distribution. But distributors who aren't afraid of a serious adult drama without a high-concept hook or big box-office stars are in short supply.
Now here it is, opening in limited release on Friday (9.25.09) -- and I don't want to make more of it than it is. But Blind Date is strong stuff indeed -- a well-written and insightful drama built around two beautifully modulated performances by Tucci (who directed) and the always-marvelous Patricia Clarkson.
They play Don and Janna, initially seen meeting for what seems to be the first time in a bar that Don appears to own. They exchange banter, the kind of small talk chit-chat common to that getting-to-know-you situation. But then he says something wrong -- and after briefly correcting him, she leaves.
They meet again and again -- same place, same time -- and each has a new affect or a different personality. They go through what seems like an elaborate, agreed-upon ritual -- several more times, in fact, before the end of the film. Each time, a miscue, a wrong choice -- and the date is over, sending both back to their neutral corners. Yet each missed opportunity obviously takes a toll.
How long has this been going on? Hard to tell -- but Tucci and Clarkson show us a couple who obviously know each other too well. What has happened in their marriage that they need this kind of role-playing? Ultimately, that's revealed -- but it's less important than the urgency they feel (to seemingly alternating degrees) to make it work. But can they overcome the pain they're feeling? Can they ever get it right? Can they make it last if they do?
Working with an extremely limited budget on a single set whose utility he maximizes, Tucci takes what feels like a two-person theatrical piece and makes it cinematic without being showy about it. Using lights and music, he changes things up from encounter to encounter -- and then it all comes down to the actors.
Tucci and Clarkson are like long-time dance partners executing intricate maneuvers with polish and style, yet making it look spontaneous and fresh. Their reactions to each other, their timing, their ability to turn it on or pull back, their subtle calibrations -- it's all masterfully done, creating two characters whose pain comes through, even in the film's funniest moments -- and there are several.
In an alternate universe, talent and stardom would equate -- and Tucci and Clarkson would be the biggest stars in the world, making smart movies that the masses flocked to. Tucci's Joe Gould's Secret would be a popular, award-winning hit and Clarkson would have her pick of quality, A-list scripts.
In the meantime, track down Blind Date, whose theatrical shelf-life no doubt will be comparable to the life of a mayfly, given the current commercial climate. It's gripping, sometimes challenging stuff -- and it deserves to be seen.
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