Fine ‘Men’ Gives Woman’s View of Romance
“Men,” a film of much warmth and honesty, could have been tailor-made for Sean Young, a free spirit on screen and off. It’s a fresh take on contemporary relationships between men and women in that it unfolds from the woman’s point of view, moving from humor to unexpected depth. Inspired by Margaret Diehl’s novel, “Men” is a fine example of what can be accomplished in the American independent cinema.
When we meet Young’s Stella, an aspiring chef, she’s staying with her current beau, Teo (Dylan Walsh), in his vacationing parents’ posh Manhattan apartment. Stella, who narrates her own story via occasional voice-overs, tells us that she’s “too curious” and Teo’s “too rich” for the good of their romance. Teo is a handsome charmer, but he’s also a serious alcoholic.
Stella cares deeply for Teo but in his increasing impotence she’s begun to experiment sexually. The upshot is that Stella nudges Teo toward rehab while he sends her off to Los Angeles to find a new life.
With an ease that perhaps occurs a bit more frequently on the screen than in reality, Stella finds a nifty beach area apartment to share with a college senior--and serious sorority girl (Shannon Conlon, very funny)--and lands a job at an attractive West Hollywood restaurant run by John Heard’s down-to-earth George.
By now Stella has concluded that she’s going to be open to affairs as she pleases. She is a self-possessed woman, honest with herself and everyone else, who is looking for experience as well as pleasure. She goes through life with a freshly scrubbed face, a pleasant smile and plenty of sensitivity and compassion. “When--and if--does experience turn into understanding?” she wonders. What she’s really asking herself is, when does sexual pleasure turn into love?
“Men” is a most assured first film for Zoe Clarke-Williams, whose father, Paul Williams, produced it. Clarke-Williams’ co-adapters were Karen Black, who has a delicious part in the film, and James Andronica, a longtime colleague of Paul Williams.
“Men,” which has a fine sense of proportion and scope, plays like a real movie free of that often deadly “literary” quality of scripts adapted from books. There is considerable wit and humor in the dialogue, but it’s natural in effect.
Young glows as Stella, who matures considerably in the course of the film, and the entire cast comes across as vivid individuals. The film’s other key figure proves to be Richard Hillman’s Frank, a likable activist-photographer who inspires Stella to look beyond herself. Black, Shawnee Smith and Annie McEnroe are hilarious as Frank’s way-out-there pals who cause Stella to realize she may not be as uninhibited and open as she thought.
The well-paced “Men” moves gracefully to what looks to be a perfectly satisfying conclusion, only to move beyond it to suggest that the social fabric has become so dangerously thin that it is as fragile as life itself. “Men” is not about sexual conquest but a quest for emotional fulfillment.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexuality, language and some drug content. Times guidelines: The film has considerable sexual candor.
Sean Young: Stella
John Heard: George
Dylan Walsh: Teo
Richard Hillman: Frank
Karen Black: Alex
A Unapix Films release of a Shonderosa Productions Inc. and Hillman/Williams Productions presentation. Director Zoe Clarke-Williams. Producer Paul Williams. Executive producers Richard Hillman Sr., Dennis Ardi. Screenplay by Clarke-Williams, Karen Black and James Andronica. Cinematographer Susan Emerson. Editors Annamaria Szanto, Stephen Eckleberry. Production designer Clovis Chamberet. Music Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
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