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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Reardon’ Toast to Adolescence

Times Film Critic

Meet hotshot hustler Jimmy Reardon, precocious stud, about-to-be college man and more manipulated than manipulator--although he’s the last to realize it. And welcome to 1962, when poetry was still beatnik, bras were still unburned, when girls still got away with “Come a little closer / Don’t you touch me” and baffled boys could still accuse them of being “frigid.”

Return with us, in other words, to the sweet-and-sour yesteryear of “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” (selected theaters). An utterly unexpected delight, the film is writer-director William Richert’s bravura toast, in maturity, to the power, the glory, the turmoil and the heartbreak of adolescence--a salute as sweet as a double manhattan with twice the kick.

As River Phoenix plays him, 17-year-old Jimmy Reardon is a very hardy boy indeed. He combines the ingenuity of Tom Sawyer, the deviousness of Duddy Kravitz, the yearning of Holden Caulfield, the frustrated passion of “The Graduate’s” Benjamin and the sheer randy exuberance of Henry Miller in his Paris days.

But Jimmy isn’t the film’s only compound-complex character. There is a star-making bit by a peaches-and-creamy actress called only Louanne, as Suzi Middleberg, the acid wit among these languid rich kids, and a warm and electric performance by Ann Magnuson as the surprising Mrs. Fickett.

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For most of the movie’s 36-hour time frame, Jimmy, the financial odd man out among his rich-kid buddies at Chicago’s North Shore, connives wildly to collect enough money to get to Hawaii. It’s there that Lisa Bentwright (Meredith Salenger) will be going to college. Rich, beautiful, aloof as a greyhound and expert at keeping marauders above an anatomical Mason-Dixon line, Lisa, with her come-hither chastity, is driving Jimmy crazy.

The other half of his anguish comes from his parents, a seeming blowhard of a father and a somewhat oppressed but savvy mother (played to perfection by Paul Koslo and Jane Hallaran). While the others in Jimmy’s group are destined for the Ivy League, it’s out of the question for the Reardons. But rather than let Jimmy go to Northwestern, his father wants Jimmy at his own alma mater, a mediocre business school--or at a full-time job.

While Lisa is in the forefront of Jimmy’s mind, it inhibits him not at all from browsing compulsively among a wide range of available women, including the steady girlfriend (Ione Skye) of Jimmy’s best friend (Matthew L. Perry). Jimmy’s list of conquests may also include a dazzling older woman, the 30-ish divorced Joyce Fickett (Magnuson), if she has stamina enough to wait out Jimmy’s poetry recitations and great hunks of a 17-year-old’s philosophizing.

Actually, if it weren’t for his poetic side, Reardon’s sexual high-scoring and his Eddie Haskell heart would be enough to rule him out of our affections forever. But Jimmy is also the film’s narrator, and his words--absurd, insightful, touching and hilarious by turns--strike a nice balance between vulnerability and venality. There’s another side to this sexual equation too: Jimmy may be the most proficient young lover these North Shore debutantes have had, but he’s not the first entry in their secret diaries, by a long shot.

Director Richert is working here from his own novel “Aren’t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye?” Written in 1963 and published four years later, it’s as smudgily autobiographic as most books with 19-year-old authors.

It is to the novel’s great advantage that Richert waited until now to film it, when he and the climate of American movie-making are a tad more mature. The Richert of “Winter Kills” seems to have been replaced by a film maker far less interested in shock for its own sake.

“Jimmy Reardon” has certainly earned its MPAA R-rating (for language, nudity and briskly uninhibited sexuality), yet Richert can be as discreet with his camera as he is rollickingly forthright with his kids’ dialogue.

One of Richert’s hallmarks has been witty performances of off-the-wall characters. This time, watch for the interplay between Marji Banks and Melva Williams, as the photographer’s jealous mother and her maid, and for the spoiled-princess wonderfulness of Ione Skye and Meredith Salenger.

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In the eight years since his last film, Richert has lost none of his dazzling visual style. This luscious camera work is the photography-directing debut of John Connor, veteran camera operator for Vilmos Zsigmond (among others). It’s a striking unveiling, right in line with the film’s other exceptional technical credits: Norman Newberry’s superb production design; Bob De Mora’s painstakingly fine costumes and the hair stylings of Ron Scott and Carol Branston, Suzanne Fenn’s editing and Bill Conti’s music and choice of period songs for the score.

The only irony about “Jimmy Reardon” is that it’s far too good to be wasted on the young--the cast’s contemporaries, who will probably devour it. A far more deserving audience are those who remember their own outrageousness at this age with equanimity and perhaps even bemusement. Will they have a picnic.

‘A NIGHT IN THE LIFE

OF JIMMY REARDON’

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An Island Pictures presentation of a William Richert film released by 20th Century Fox. Producer Russell Schwartz. Executive producers Mel Klein, Noel Marshall. Co-producer Richard H. Prince. Writer-director Richert, based on his own novel “Aren’t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye?” Associate producer Lauren Graybow. Production design Norman Newberry. Art director John R. Jensen. Set decorator Hilton Rosemarin. Editor Suzanne Fenn. Costumes Bob De Mora. Music Bill Conti. Sound Scott Smith. With River Phoenix, Ann Magnuson, Meredith Salenger, Ione Skye, Louanne, Matthew L. Perry, Paul Koslo, Jane Hallaran, Marji Banks, Anastasia Fielding, Melva Williams.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).


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