Unable to articulate what it is they want to say about young graduates in the 90s, the filmmakers have made a kind of Gen X superprobe into the nothingness of being young instead of capturing a real piece of today's culture.

THE PALLBEARER

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"The Pallbearer" tries to walk in giant footprints and fails. More than 30 years after "The Graduate" sparked the counterculture, the country still hums "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson." Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman turned the film into a landmark that caught the rhythm of the time, and anyone who imitates a landmark had better be good. "The Pallbearer" isn't terrible, it's just pale.

Tom Thompson (David Schwimmer) does not have life by the tail. He's a slack-jawed college graduate looking halfheartedly for a job while still living at home with Mom and hanging out with his old high-school buddies. The tedium is pierced by a telephone call from Ruth Abernathy, a grieving mother who asks Tom to deliver the eulogy at her son's funeral.

Unwilling to tell Ruth that he can't remember anything about the son she thinks was his best friend, Tom agrees. Ruth telegraphs her seduction of Tom by wearing a too short skirt and freeze-dried platinum hair to the funeral. Blatant and predictable, the scene has none of the wit or punch that accompanied Anne Bancroft's hilarious abandon. No, it is not belaboring a point to make the comparison. This movie invites comparison by imitating the earlier one in minute detail.

The film misfires again by miring its principals in the excruciating adolescent rituals and fumblings appropriate for high-school students, but curiously off the mark for college graduates who are building careers and getting married. Things improve when Tom rediscovers Julie DeMarco (Gwyneth Paltrow), the girl he had once loved from afar. Their courtship brings out a nice, less dumbo side of Tom and kindles a good feeling that they may survive her parents, his mother, Ruth Abernathy, and their friends.

Gwyneth Paltrow has a fresh, coltish spirit that will flourish when she is freed of the demands of a script that forces her to sprinkle her conversation with "y 'know," a lapse thoroughly incongruous with the natural sophistication she has to subdue for this movie. David Schwimmer lights up occasionally, but is mostly one-note leaden. The supporting cast is unremarkable.

Barbara Hershey, a good actress, is imprisoned in a badly written role that becomes an albatross for the film rather than its inspiration. Her Ruth Abernathy is neither funny nor interesting, just brittle. In slavish imitation of "The Graduate," writers Jason Katims and Matt Reeves (who also directed) repeat a mistake from the original: they turn their seductress into a scorned shrew. Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Abernathy would be far funnier and more convincing if they were allowed to seduce and then quickly let go of their young lovers. Instead, wit drains away in tantrums.

Unable to articulate what it is they want to say about young graduates in the 90s, the filmmakers have made a kind of Gen X superprobe into the nothingness of being young instead of capturing a real piece of today's culture. "The Pallbearer" takes aim but never fires.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Miramax
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h37m


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