With "Never Again" New York independent filmmaker Eric Schaeffer successfully teams Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Clayburgh in a middle-aged romance between a pair of wary divorces, only to shoot them down with some of the most tasteless dialogue ever spoken in a mainstream movie. Since Schaeffer has among his credits the effective offbeat romantic comedies "Wirey Spindell" and "Fall," one has to wonder what he was thinking.
The problem is not the use of four-letter words and crude sex talk in themselves; it is the context. It is simply not credible that people of the intelligence of Tambor's Christopher and Clayburgh's Grace would speak in this manner. Schaeffer has confused an entirely appropriate sexual candor with flagrant crudity, and the effect has an uncomfortable aura of self-consciousness. The result is unfortunate, to say the least: Youthful audiences won't be attracted to a love story between two 54-year-olds in the first place, and mature audiences will be turned off by the language, not necessarily out of prudishness, but out of its sheer crassness. Christopher continues his late father's exterminator business and plays jazz piano at a Greenwich Village bar with his bassist pal, Earl (Bill Duke). Christopher is a massively built guy grown bald, paunchy and cranky. He has little contact with his 31-year-old son, from a one-year marriage, who now lives in Montana. Christopher's love life seems to have been confined to one-night stands, but the latest, with a 25-year-old who, rather amazingly, picked him up, has found him impotent for the first time. If that wasn't bad enough, his date tells him she thinks he's bisexual.
He then has a nightmare in which he successfully has sex with a young man and awakens so shaken he feels compelled to seek out a transsexual hooker (Michael McKean) to find out if what his date said might be true. When he can't deal with what he encounters, he heads for a gay bar, where, rather improbably, to say the least, a young man (Dan'l Linehan) comes on to him. But Christopher's crude sexual request turns the man off.
In the meantime, Grace, who has been divorced a decade and made lonely by her daughter's departure for college, enters the same gay bar with her best friends (Caroline Aaron and Sandy Duncan), who have urged to her to try Internet dating. Grace has been stood up--why her blind date selected a gay bar as a meeting place remains a mystery--and she and Christopher cross paths in the bar, where he assumes she must be a transsexual.
This 10-minute opening sequence is as contrived and protracted as it sounds, and it makes Christopher look needlessly clumsy and naive. (There's a similar sequence in which Grace goes to a sex toy shop, which has subsequent consequences more ludicrous than amusing.) In any event, Christopher and Grace click, especially when both insist that they are looking for a relationship but that they never again will fall in love.
Of course, they do anyway, and the way it leaves them shaken and fearful of trusting one another is entirely credible and played beautifully by Tambor and Clayburgh, whom Schaeffer met when he had a small part in his stars' 1991 sitcom pilot "Everything's Relative," a series that lasted only four episodes.
But so much of "Never Again" is cringe-inducing that Tambor and Clayburgh cannot overcome such defects. That the opportunities to depict romance in middle age on the big screen are so few and far between makes "Never Again's" gratuitous lapses all the more lamentable.
MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content, including graphic dialogue, and for language. Times guidelines: wholly unsuitable for children.
Jill Clayburgh... Grace
A USA Films release of a Five Minutes Before the Miracle production. Writer-producer-director Eric Schaeffer. Producers Terence Michael, Dawn Wolfrom, Bob Kravitz. Cinematographer Thom Ostrowski. Costumes Eden Miller. Production designer John Nyomarkay. Set decorators Mila Khalevich, Alida Jung. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
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