Saturday, June 06, 2009

5/31/09: A Simple Twist of Fate (1994)

Although it wasn't intentional, the fact that I sequenced two Steve Martin movies back to back turns out to have been a stroke of genius—especially these two particular titles. While both are worth watching, they couldn't be more different. The Lonely Guy is a broad comedy trading on Steve's comic persona, although he didn't write the screenplay; whereas A Simple Twist of Fate is a straight drama, with a script penned by Martin. Separated by exactly one decade, Twist of Fate shows Steve's growth as an actor and spotlights his ambition as a scenarist.

Loosely based on George Eliot's 1861 novel Silas Marner, the movie features Steve as a divorced loner whose life suddenly changes when a toddler literally walks into his life (and his house) one chilly winter's night. The little girl's mother, a heroin addict, has died outside in the snow, and a couple of rather farfetched scenes later, Steve Martin has adopted Mathilda as his own.

The movie's third act becomes a courtroom drama, with the now 12-year-old girl's biological father attempting to gain custody of the child. The heaviness of the drama is lifted by occasional and much-needed flashes of humor, some of it provided by SCTV veteran Catherine O'Hara, whom I've never thought of as particularly attractive, but who is drop-dead gorgeous in this film. (Pity she didn't get the opportunity to play Steve's love interest.) Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, as the biological father, partially succeeds with his Southern accent, and Cliff Eidelman's musical score is perfectly lush and melodic. The acting is all first-rate, and the various children playing Mathilda are amazing, especially Alana Austin as the 12-year-old version. I had only two slight gripes about the film. First, after letting his toddler escape briefly from their house, Steve later allows her to vanish again, and she teeters precariously from a steep cliff. (Bad parenting, Steve, and bad scripting—I lost faith in you as a Dad after that scene.) Second, I wanted to be more touched by the events in the movie, especially the ending. My eyes were entirely too dry by the dénouement; while there was plenty of warmth and emotion, I never got truly verklempt. (Thank God English borrows from so many other languages!) Despite those misgivings, I did enjoy the movie. Rating: 4/5.

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