LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND

Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Richard Kwietniowski
Stars: John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Sheila Hancock, Maury Chaykin.

From first time writer/director Richard Kwietniowski comes this droll, delightfully entertaining and dry fish out of water tale. Based on Gilbert Adair’s cult novel, long thought to be unfilmable, Love And Death On Long Island is also a contemporary, lightweight reworking of Death In Venice, albeit with a far more comic bent.

Giles De ‘Ath (John Hurt) is a reclusive, high brow British novelist, who disdains much of the technology of the twentieth century. His home is devoid of many of the devices that most of us take for granted, and he still punches out his stories on an old manual type writer. “I’m a writer. I write. I don’t process words,” he says tartly in a rare radio interview. But he is reluctantly dragged into the twentieth century when he sees a dreadful American teen movie by mistake.

One day when he accidentally locks himself out of his flat, Giles wanders into the local multiplex, hoping to see an E M Forster adaptation. He wanders into the wrong cinema and instead finds himself watching Hotpants College II, a dreadful adolescent comedy that makes Porky’s look sophisticated. He is about to walk out when he sees Ronnie Bostock (Beverley Hills 90210‘s Jason Priestley) in a bit part. He becomes obsessed with the handsome young actor. Before long, Giles is tracking down his earlier films, with equally dire titles like Skid Marks and Tex Mex, and learning everything he can about Bostock from reading teen magazines.

Eventually he makes an uncharacteristic decision, and flies off to Long Island to try and track down Bostock. It is the beginning of a strange and unusual, but ultimately doomed, friendship between the articulate and witty De ‘Ath and the handsome but gormless Ronnie. Giles also tries to prevent Ronnie from marrying his long time girl friend Audrey (Fiona Loewi).

Love And Death is a poignant and comic fable about a magnificent obsession. But the film also explores the clash of cultures – between the older generation and the young, between Britain and America, and between the literary world and the shallow pretensions of the movie industry. There are some wonderful scenes as De ‘Ath comes to terms with the bewildering technology of the twentieth century. There is another hilarious scene when the supercilious author wanders into a video store to check out some of Bostock’s previous works, much to the bemusement and glee of the clerk.

But the film seems to come to an abrupt, almost unsatisfactory conclusion, and it seems as though Kwietniowski had no idea how to resolve this painfully doomed mismatch.

Hurt has made a career of playing eccentrics, and he is magnificent here. His usually pained expression works a treat, and gives his least mannered performance for quite some time. He seems to revel in the sly, acerbic dialogue. And while the pompous Giles finds himself in some embarrassing situations, Hurt never allows him to become a ridiculous figure. Priestley’s film career has not exactly been a success, but he seems quite comfortable with his role as the male bimbo, and enjoys this opportunity to send up his own image.
★★★

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