That last year's Venice Film Festival turned down "Boogie Nights" in favor of "Niagara Niagara" should help American audiences get over any lingering inferiority complex they might have regarding European cinema, or aesthetics--although it won't allay anyone's concerns about American independent pictures.
Robin Tunney ("The Craft") won a best actress award from the festival, playing a lovely loser with Tourette's syndrome (an honor that seems a classic example of "Rain Man" syndrome). But while Tunney is nice as Marcy, the bourbon-swigging loose cannon who hooks up with the introverted Seth (Henry Thomas, best known as the kid from "E.T."), the use of Tourette's as a plot device still feels like exploitation.
And for all the attempted romance and railing against intolerance--what's more obscene, we're asked, Marcy's mouth or the world at large?--the syndrome (which involves involuntary tics and uncontrollable vulgarity) dominates the movie, and makes Marcy a sideshow attraction.
Produced by the self-admitted geniuses at New York's Shooting Gallery, "Niagara Niagara" presumes a lot: unquestioned sympathy for Marcy and Seth, for one thing; a galloping contempt for the rest of the world for another. They're sensitive and sweet, and they're in love; and when Marcy wants her medication, the bourgeois pig pharmacist wants a prescription. The brute.
And when the two teenagers try to refill her ever-present silver flask at the local liquor store--alcohol and sex tend to keep Marcy from losing her grip--the system foils them again. What kind of world is it when a girl with a delirious look in her eye and a mouthful of expletives isn't immediately embraced by everyone she meets? Not a nice one, I can tell you that.
Director Bob Gosse's commitment to his characters is suspect, given how easily he swings away from them for the easy joke, visual or otherwise. But he has a good cast. Michael Parks (erstwhile star of the erstwhile "Then Came Bronson") is fun to watch as Walter, a reclusive eccentric who befriends the two and whom Marcy nearly beats to death; likewise, Stephen Lang, as a particularly short-tempered druggist with a shotgun. Despite Tunney's Venice honor, it's really Thomas who anchors the movie, providing Seth with a convincing introspection and wariness, and the movie with the only proof of its assertion that in the lost soul lies truth.
Niagara Niagara, 1998. R for violence, sexuality, substance abuse and strong language. A Shooting Gallery Films production, distributed by TSG Pictures. Directed by Bob Gosse. Produced by David L. Bushell, Larry Meistrich. Written by Matthew Weiss. Cinematography by Michael Spiller. Editor Rachel Warden. Music by Jeff Bird, Michael Timmins. Production design by Clark Hunter. Costume design by Laura Jean Shannon. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Robin Tunney as Marcy. Henry Thomas as Seth. Michael Parks as Walter. Stephen Lang as Pharmacist.
"Niagara Niagara" falls into exploitation.
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