Friday April 28, 2000
"Some people are born with a knack for faith. They're not afraid of permanence, they're at home with it. When it comes to bonding with another human soul, they're going to consider that bond sacred." That's Joline (Heather Graham) speaking, and given that she's tattooed her wedding ring on her finger, there's little doubt she's one of them.
What happens in "Committed," Lisa Krueger's wry comic fable about love and yes, commitment, is going to test Joline's belief system something fierce. A person who keeps her word no matter what, who insists "for better or for worse" is a sacred trust, Joline is going to take her faith to extremes few people could imagine, let alone attempt.
Writer-director Krueger, whose debut was the wonderfully eccentric "Manny and Lo," has the kind of distinctive voice and quirky sense of humor that fits this kind of scenario. Like "Manny and Lo," "Committed" accompanies slightly unhinged people trying to get along in a so-called rational world, constructing their own particular kinds of family as they go. Their luck is mixed, and so finally is this film's.
After glimpsing her the day of her marriage to handsome Carl (Luke Wilson), "Committed" catches up to Joline (an on-screen title tells us) 597 days later. The manager of a Manhattan rock club who has to deal with crises like the Love Army band being reduced to just one guy, Joline is unfailingly supportive of Carl, a newspaper photographer who keeps getting sent out to shoot food when he'd rather have a taste of hard news.
One day, Carl goes out to immortalize a pancake breakfast in New Jersey and never comes back. He leaves a confused message about his need for "space to get out of the fog," which forces Joline to fall back for emotional support on her extremely unreliable brother Jay (a loopy Casey Affleck), who can't even imagine what a committed relationship would be like.
Undaunted, Joline decides to seek out Carl to assure him of her support in his crisis of faith. Determining that she has enough money to cover "two regular-sized states or one big one," and liking the sound of Texas as "one of those states where lost people go to get more lost," Joline focuses on the massive Lone Star state as the likely refuge of her guy.
Naturally, this being the movies, Joline has little difficulty locating Carl hanging out in El Paso and environs. Ever solicitous of his problem and not wanting to reveal herself until she senses that he's ready, Joline follows a policy she defines as "keeping a protective eye" on her husband, as opposed to what less charitable souls might call spying or even stalking.
Keeping Joline company on her quest are a variety of genial eccentrics. There's Carl's baffled boss ("Happiness' " Dylan Baker), not to mention her husband's confused new girlfriend, Carmen (Patricia Velasquez), an ex-boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) who wants to tear Carl's New York guts out, and Carmen's bemused medicine-man grandfather (Mexican director Alfonso Arau). There's even room for "Manny and Lo" co-star Mary Kay Place as a psychiatrist who does not believe in the easy way out, not one little bit.
It's in dealing with these shambling, off-center, peripheral characters that filmmaker Krueger and "Committed" are at their best. With its capacity to surprise, the film comes to life when you don't expect it to, in tiny but wonderfully off-center moments, like Joline's encounter with both desert bandits and serenading Mexican musicians.
Where "Committed" runs into more trouble is in making these exceptional moments coalesce enough to have a cumulative impact. Part of the problem is with Joline herself. Although Graham has exactly the kind of zoned-out, true-believer rigidity the part calls for, it is a delicate thing making people who flirt with sanity appealing, and by the film's end Joline's welcome is looking a bit worn. Ditto for Neil ("ER's" Goran Visnjic), a folk artist whose passion for Joline is increasingly off-putting. Still, with all the endearing people Krueger and her cast do create, we can be as forgiving of her as Joline is of Carl. At any rate, this film makes us want to try.
Committed, 2000. R, for language. A Dean Silvers/Marlen Hecht production, released by Miramax Films. Director Lisa Krueger. Producers Dean Silvers, Marlen Hecht. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jonathan Gordon, Amy Slotnick. Screenplay Lisa Krueger. Cinematographer Tom Krueger. Editors Curtiss Clayton, Colleen Sharp. Costumes Beth Pasternak. Music Calexico. Production design Sharon Lomofsky. Art director Timothy Whidbee. Set decorator Lisa Kent. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Heather Graham as Joline. Casey Affleck as Jay. Luke Wilson as Carl. Goran Visnjic as Neil. Alfonso Arau as Grampy. Patricia Velasquez as Carmen.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times