Who could guess that behind an unprepossessing ad and the sort of title built to keep audiences out of theaters, there lurks a radiantly beautiful, even memorable film about the ineffable mysteries of women? “Some Girls” (opening Friday at the Century Plaza Cinemas) is the victim in question, a smart, enticing enchantment that may be the first sexual comedy to look like an Art Nouveau fairy tale.
Love brings Eastern-born Michael (Patrick Dempsey) to Quebec City for his Christmas holidays, and into the sophisticated, utterly eccentric milieu of the D’Arc family, author/father (Andre Gregory), mother (Florinda Bolkan) and their three delectable daughters, 13 to 24 years old, each more ravishing than the next.
It’s the middle one, his college classmate Gabriella, (Jennifer Connelly) who has invited Michael up, then kept him waiting forlornly at the airport. She will show up, unapologetic, in a fur hat and red, red lipstick, like a fairy tale princess. Her arrival is delayed just long enough for us to understand that the references to the Three Graces on the vast Botticelli poster behind Michael are hardly accidental. They are no less deliberate than “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” bubbling charmingly in the background; for the greatest part of its running time, the completely contemporary “Some Girls” will come with the beauty of Botticelli and the delicacy of Mozart.
Michael’s introduction to the family is a beaut. Father, who hates to be encumbered by clothes when he writes, is a cheerful agnostic; mother, an obedient Catholic with a family confessor at her elbow. The electricity has failed, the stained glass, tapestries and Art Nouveau paneling are lit by fantastic candelabra, and if the servants came over from their off-days at the palace of “Beauty and the Beast” it would feel exactly right.
But there are no servants, here everyone pitches in; the D’Arc wealth is intellectual and spiritual, not showy. This is one of those close-knit, artistic families that England also specializes in; they get by one-isn’t-exactly-sure-how, but with a sure touch and lashings of style.
Sweet Michael, not brash and not as cool as he imagines, is in wildly over his head. Hard not to be, but it reduces him to remarks like, “Great door ,” the sort of cotton-brained comment induced by these dazzling surroundings. His distress is compounded when Gabriella announces she’s not in love with him anymore, but he might as well stay out the week.
And so the stage is set for Michael’s initiation into the heady, open-handed, uncompetitive world of the D’Arc women: Gabriella, flowing-haired Irenka (Sheila Kelley), and “little” Simone (Ashley Greenfield). He’s drawn, too, into a rondelet of innocent bedtime visits by sisters other than Gabriella and fierce spot checks by their ferociously protective mother, “only looking for Beowulf,” the family dog. It will be Michael’s lot to be innocent when things look worst, and to attract disastrous sexual situations with the sureness of blue serge and lint.
Last of the dynasty to surface is Granny (Lila Kedrova), Bolkan’s mother, whose memory lapses and gradual downward spiral have all the women in her family deeply concerned. However, on her first sight of Michael, Granny brightens: to her he is her deceased husband and nothing will sway her from that belief.
If Rupert Walters’ screenplay teeters at times into farce, it’s farce of an innocent, hilarious nature, and when it takes a turn for the mystical, it’s delicately achieved. Director Michael Hoffman may get carried away at the film’s end by careening action that is too broad by far, but his work with actors is marvelous.
He seems to have drawn the best and most delicate performances from everyone, but most especially from Patrick Dempsey, who doesn’t have a strained moment in the piece, and from Andre Gregory, whose musing on the mysterious nature of women is the film’s highlight.
Dempsey has had major roles earlier (you may remember him as Sonny Wisecarver in the misfired “In the Mood”), but nothing before has hinted at his range, his perfect comic placement or his capacity for tenderness, wonder and a certain wild apprehension, all at the same time.
All three sisters are a joy; individually glorious, they are also wonderful at creating a mood of mutual appreciation and almost-subliminal rapport. Kedrova can be iffy: as she has demonstrated more than once, she can be as mannered as Luise Rainer or as innocently fey as she is here. This role is one of her best, and since her rapport with Dempsey is crucial, it’s nice to be able to say that it seems extraordinary, lifting the story to its final, tender plane.
“Some Girls"(rated R for nudity and very brief salty language) was produced by Hoffman’s usual partner, Rick Stevenson (“Restless Natives”) for Robert Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises, and Nicoletta Massone’s evocative costumes and Ueli Steiger’s rich, glowing camera work deserve special mention.
However, there’s another element: No lover of superior production design should miss Eugenio Zanetti’s astonishing work, which creates the world of this wildly eclectic family with wit and absolute authority. If this had been a production budgeted at 20 times more, Zanetti’s work would still be stunning; to have done it on the budget reported for this production is something close to a miracle. You might hope that this is the sort of achievement that would not go unnoticed when awards for artistic ingenuity are being considered.