Spending night after night watching her old B-movies in a pedestrian flat, Phyllis thinks she is getting exactly what she deserves.

AFTERGLOW

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


Without Julie Christie, "Afterglow" might well have sunk into its own depression. But there she is, a glorious natural beauty playing a former actress utterly dulled by the life she's living. With an intriguing combination of weariness and inner spirit, Christie embodies the possibility of transcendence. That's enough focus for any movie.

Lucky (Nick Nolte) is a cavalier handyman who beds most of the bored housewives who are his customers. It's a good life: fix the plumbing, service the customer, go home to Phyllis (Julie Christie), the beautiful wife who has given her permission for this philandering.

Some years ago, Lucky discovered that their daughter Cassie was Phyllis's child by another man. He exploded, Cassie disappeared, and Phyllis has been doing penance ever since. Spending night after night watching her old B-movies in a pedestrian flat, Phyllis thinks she is getting exactly what she deserves. To compound her self-punishment, she tells Lucky he is free to sleep with anyone, anytime. For Lucky, it's a carefree deal. In the absence of sex with the wife he loves dearly, he's perfectly happy to get what he needs by day and come home to her at night. "You set the rules, Phyllis," he tells her. "You can change them any time."

But nothing changes. When her doctor says nothing is wrong with her, she replies, "Well, life goes on then, doesn't it?" She won't be rescued, even by disease. Finally the inertia is punctured. Lucky does his usual number with a new customer, Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle), the needy wife of a young mega-magnate who wants neither the sex nor the children she wants so badly.

In an unlikely coincidence, the intolerably cold husband, Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller), meets Phyllis, who is old enough to be his mother and has enough sensuality for both of them. What unfolds among the varying combinations of this unlikely foursome isn't especially interesting, because not one of them ever connects emotionally with another.

Jonny Lee Miller's Jeffrey is devoid of redeeming features; his shrill wife, Marianne, is a spoiled whiner. They richly deserve each other, but what they don't deserve is our attention. Their apartment is the only interesting thing about them: a superbly stark unit in Montreal's Expo 67 Habitat experiment, a perfect backdrop for the arid couple. These people are merely props, symbols for what ails Lucky and Phyllis.

By now we care greatly about these two people, who are brought to full life by the actors who create them. Nick Nolte's Lucky is a decent, happy-go-lucky slob with an abiding love for the wife who has abandoned him emotionally. Julie Christie's Phyllis has sewn herself tightly into her self-imposed prison as punishment for her sins. What will unlock this lovely woman? When it happens, her pain is so searing that it becomes universal. This actress, absent from the screen for far too long, can still touch the souls of an audience.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 492
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h53m


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