In bringing his highly acclaimed novel "I'm Losing You" to the screen, writer-director Bruce Wagner attempts something quite unusual: His film portrays a wealthy Los Angeles family capable of dignity in the face of a string of catastrophes that would test the spirit of Job. This is an elegant, stately film of considerable acrid wit but of even greater compassion and wisdom that glows with polished ensemble performances from a notable cast.
The Krohns are not the nouveau riche philistines of typical depictions of show biz families. They are smart, educated, sophisticated people capable of reflection who do not let the onslaught of tragedy erase their appreciation of the good fortune they have known.
"I'm Losing You," a phrase that refers to a fading call on a cell phone as well as impending death, opens with Perry Krohn (Frank Langella) getting very bad news on the eve of his 60th birthday: He has terminal lung cancer and no more than a year to live. Krohn, who looks and feels fine, cannot help but express the irony of learning such dire news at a time he's making $8 million a year as producer of a "Star Trek"-like TV series, an accomplishment he views with pride diluted with a certain degree of self-disdain.
Krohn lives in a hilltop estate of impeccably tasteful contemporary splendor with his elegant wife, Diantha (Salome Jens), a psychiatrist who dedicates herself to unlocking the secrets of her patients while keeping a few whoppers of her own. In addition to their son, Bertie (Andrew McCarthy), an actor whose brief moment in the limelight has passed, Diantha and Perry have also raised as their daughter Perry's niece Rachel (Rosanna Arquette), an appraiser at a fancy auction house who was orphaned as an infant.
Bertie is not the usual Hollywood scion who can't get it together. While open to acting gigs when they come along, he is committed to supporting himself and his little daughter as best he can. Currently, he's selling life insurance policies of AIDS patients in order to obtain a cash advance for the dying. He's about to get a commission for his part in getting a dentist and his wife to buy such a policy--a scene of exceedingly subtle humor.
By coincidence, the policy belongs to a former costume designer (Buck Henry) on Perry's series; although gay, the designer appreciates the dark irony of having become infected with AIDS via a blood transfusion, for he is a hemophiliac. Divorced from a serious substance abuser (Gina Gershon), Bertie, in his new gig, meets and falls for Aubrey (Elizabeth Perkins), a chic socialite with a small son; Aubrey is on the verge of entering the terminal stages of AIDS, which she acquired under bizarre circumstances. Meanwhile, Rachel, reeling from the discovery of the true circumstances of her parents' death, finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the rituals of Judaism.
Wagner undercuts all the tragedy by maintaining a calm, understated tone with a flicker of recognition of life's absurdities. Most adults know that the advent of one impending loss scarcely makes one immune to another, so the chain of dire events that shower upon the Krohns do not really defy credibility. In any event, what concerns Wagner is how the respective Krohns rise to the occasion.
Arquette and McCarthy have had challenging roles before, but perhaps not quite so demanding as these, and they are every bit as impressive as the more seasoned Langella and Jens. Perkins manages the tricky business of making Aubrey appealing rather than pathetic or insufferably brave or noble. Amanda Donohoe is beguiling as a stunning, coolly mature British actress who takes a key role in Perry's series and his life. Everyone else in the large cast also hits just the right notes.
"I'm Losing You" has a sleekness that is epitomized in Theadora Van Runkle's typically distinctive costumes. The film is too adult and too perceptive, its people far too well-drawn and persuasive, to seem either as contrived or as depressing as a description of it almost surely sounds. A sharp observer with a dry satirical edge, Wagner dares to ask us to discover in his highly contemporary people something of the stature of the heroes of Greek tragedy.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong sexual content and language. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
'I'm Losing You'
Andrew McCarthy: Bertie Krohn
Rosanna Arquette: Rachel Krohn
Frank Langella: Perry Krohn
Salome Jens: Diantha Krohn
Buck Henry: Philip Dragom
Elizabeth Perkins: Aubrey
Amanda Donohoe: Mona Deware
A Strand Releasing and Lions Gate Films presentation of a Killer Films production. Director Bruce Wagner. Producers Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachon. Executive producers David Cronenberg, Michael Paseornek, Jeff Sackman, John Dunning and Andre Link. Screenplay by Wagner, based on his novel. Cinematographer Rob Sweeney. Editor Janice Hampton. Music Daniel Catan. Costumes Theadora Van Runkle. Production designer Richard Sherman. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
At selected theaters.