Nick Cassavetes turns the syrup spigot on and never turns it off, a real shame since his mother, Gena Rowlands, is ready and able to convey the sometimes terrifying void that opens when a woman looks around at 60-something and realizes that no one is there. UNHOOK THE STARS The movie plays at the snail's pace of a small southern town, which is just a little too simple when it comes to either the South or Truman Capote. THE GRASS HARP

UNHOOK THE STARS AND THE GRASS HARP

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Unhook the Stars" and "The Grass Harp" are showcase films directed by fond sons for parents. As it happens, both Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau are still supremely able to carry a story without help from their young. They have not yet reached the age where diminished abilities invite sentimental tribute.

In "Unhook the Stars," Nick Cassavetes turns the syrup spigot on and never turns it off, a real shame since his mother, Gena Rowlands, is ready and able to convey the sometimes terrifying void that opens when a woman looks around at 60-something and realizes that no one is there. It is a time that is several big steps beyond the empty nest syndrome, which is mere child's play compared to an empty life.

As Mildred, Ms. Rowlands keeps her dignity while dealing with a perfectly awful daughter and a tough-talking neighbor, Monica (Marisa Tomei). She even defuses the saccharine with the genuine feel of her friendship with six-year-old J.J. (Jake Lloyd), the little guy who gives her a reason to get up in the morning. But, try as she may, even this fine actress cannot save this candy-coated apple. It is gratifying to know Nick Cassavetes admires and appreciates his mother, but his movie does her no favors.

Charles Matthau has better luck with his father in "The Grass Harp," but then he has Truman Capote's novel as a base. Walter Matthau plays Judge Charlie Cool, a kindly, dignified fellow who offers his love to Dolly Talbo (Piper Laurie), one of two sisters raising their orphaned nephew, Collin (Edward Furlong.) Sister Verena is played with one-note repression by Sissy Spacek.

The movie plays at the snail's pace of a small southern town, which is just a little too simple when it comes to either the South or Truman Capote. The con man (Jack Lemmon), the gossips, the evangelist passing through (Mary Steenburgen), the barbershop--all fit nicely with the rural landscape and the glorious grasses, the harps, that blow gently with the voices of departed friends and neighbors. But something's missing.

What's lacking here is a sense of the defining gene that makes Southerners think and feel one way, and talk and act another. Propriety dictates gentility and neighborliness, which in turn represses rage and resentment. Anger always squeezes itself out in one way or another in any culture, but in the South it usually finds some marvelously eccentric channel from gut to the spoken word. Without that eccentricity, the movie borders on being sweet.

None of this diminishes the fine performances of the cast, especially Piper Laurie's Dolly, who flutters and putters in an imaginary world of her own. That's what we miss: that wonderful feel of an American regional culture that has created itself and lives by a set of rules that seem at first glance to be like our own--except for a little Southern twist here, and another little one there.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Miramax and Fine LIne Features
Rating : R and PG
Running Time: 1h45 and 1h47m


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