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She's So Lovely
  [rating: 2½ of 4 stars]movie review by Gary Johnson

Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn in
She's So Lovely.
(©1997 Miramax Films. All rights reserved.)

Directed by Nick Cassavetes and based upon a screenplay by his father John Cassavetes, She's So Lovely gives us at least half of a good movie. The first half takes us into the lives of Eddie (Sean Penn) and Maureen (Robin Wright Penn), two barflies who just barely make it from one day to the next. They never have any money, but they love one another. They live their lives in seedy bars with yellowed linoleum, peeling wallpaper, and broken mirrors. But their love is so strong that their poverty is irrelevant, for their love makes them glide through each day, buoyed by each other's presence.

These scenes are captured with an amazing sense of authenticity by director Nick Cassavetes. He gives us a sad world of lonely people who crave the non-stop company of their drinking buddies. He takes us into the dingy bars where clusters of friends sit with arms around each other's shoulders as they laugh and tell stories. It's a sad world they inhabit, but Cassavetes paints the environment with such vivid strokes that we can begin to understand how Maureen and Eddie find satisfaction in a world where their best friends are bartenders and alcoholics.

Maureen and Eddie's relationship is threatened when Eddie disappears for three days. Maureen is bored without Eddie so she ends up drinking whiskey with a male neighbor. Eventually, however, the neighbor starts groping her, and after she smashes a beer bottle on his forehead, he becomes violent. He beats and rapes her. Maureen worries what Eddie will do when he finds out. When he shows up again, Maureen convinces Eddie that she simply tripped over her own feet (not altogether unlikely from the way that she awkwardly tromps about in her platform high heels). He takes her out dancing and dining, but the next morning he stands over her, insisting to know who bruised her face. "I'm gonna kill the son-of-a-bitch and then you'll know how I feel about you," he says. Eddie ends up running down the street, shouting about computers running the government and other such nonsense. He hangs out in the local bar, becoming weirder with every drink as he starts yelling about a conspiracy of seven women.

John Travolta in She's So Lovely.
(©1997 Miramax Films. All rights reserved.)

From there on, the movie starts to fall apart. Eddie's slide into dementia never becomes plausible. We're never given any explanation for why Eddie becomes incoherent and crazy. But whatever the case, Eddie gets locked up for 10 years in a mental hospital. While he's locked away, Maureen divorces him and marries a successful businessman played by John Travolta. They build a perfect family together, with a beautiful home and three well-mannered young daughters. Everything looks perfect on the exterior; however, Maureen is still in love with Eddie. So when he's released from jail, Maureen must consider giving up her family and secure lifestyle to return to Eddie.

Here rests the biggest problem with the movie: We never really get to experience Maureen and Joey's relationship until Eddie's release is imminent and by then Maureen is a basket case. But how did Maureen and Joey get together to begin with? At one point Joey tells us that he saved her from drugs: "I got her off the drugs, the booze--we even quit smoking together." But why did she agree to marry him and why did Maureen divorce Eddie? The jump from the first half of the movie to the second half is too abrupt, with no scenes setting up Maureen's relationship with Joey. As a result, her relationship with Joey has little emotional value. Therefore the decision of whether to stay with Joey or leave with Eddie carries no poignancy or suspense. We know exactly what she's going to do. And she knows exactly what she's going to do. "I love you too," she says to Joey. "But I love him more."

Sean Penn in She's So Lovely.
(©1997 Miramax Films. All rights reserved.)

Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn are outstanding as Eddie and Maureen. They're amazing together. We experience their love as Eddie will do anything for Maureen. In one surprising scene, they show up at a dance hall together, but Eddie doesn't have any money. However, he doesn't just talk the ticket seller out of free admission, he talks her out of an extra $30 as well. Robin Wright Penn gives possibly the best performance of her career. She stumbles about with her arms and legs flying out awkwardly. Her Maureen is clearly not an elegant woman. She has dark bags under eyes, her skin is pasty white, and her bleached hair shows long brown roots. But in Eddie's eyes, she's the most beautiful and exciting woman on earth. "I love my wife. She likes to break beer bottles over guys heads," he says with a grin.

John Travolta as Joey delivers one of his best performances. Joey desperately wants to hold onto Maureen. He ends up brandishing a gun and warning Eddie to keep away. Unlike the prefabricated craziness of his performances in Broken Arrow and Face/Off, in She's So Lovely, Travolta captures a genuine sense of desperation as Joey sees his life falling apart. He reacts the only way he knows, with violence. And in the process Travolta creates a sense of poignancy that's missing from Maureen's situation. He's a jittery mess as he prompts her: "Come on, baby. What's it gonna be?"

Unfortunately, however, the screenplay for She's So Lovely gives us a rigged situation where Maureen's response is a foregone conclusion. All that's left to watch is Travolta as he struggles to keep from losing control. And while he gives an amazing performance, we can't really judge what it all means to his character. As a result, the movie sputters and stalls when it needs to shift into passing gear.


Go to the She's So Lovely Web site

Go to the Miramax Web site

A Miramax Films Presentation


EddieSean Penn
MaureenRobin Wright Penn
JoeyJohn Travolta
ShortyHarry Dean Stanton
GeorgieDebi Mazar
Miss GreenGena Rowlands
KieferJames Gandolfini
SaulDavid Thornton
JeanieKelsey Mulrooney
LucindaSusan Traylor
CooperBobby Cooper
LeonardJohn Marshall Jones
Nancy SwearingenChloe Webb
Directed byNick Cassavetes
Produced byRene Cleitman
Written byJohn Cassavetes
Director of PhotographyThierry Arbogast
Production DesignerDavid Wasco
Edited byPetra Von Oelffen
Music byJoseph Vitarelli
Costume DesignerBeatrix Aruna Pasztor
Co-ProducerAvram Butch Kaplan
Co-Executive ProducersBob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Associate ProducerVentura E.M.A.
Executive ProducersBernard Bouix
John Travolta
Gerard Depardieu
Sean Penn
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