Always (1989) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Always (1989)

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Danny INDIFFERENTIn what may be a first for a review that I've written here, I'm going to try and talk about Always as little as possible. While many of Hepburn's films were new to me, this is my third time through Steven Spielberg's story of a ghost helping his ex-lover find new love, and one viewing of this film was probably more than enough.

The problems of Always are many. Richard Dreyfuss, as the man who is first a cocky aerial firefighter and soon thereafter quite dead, is tone deaf in his role. He's supposed to be a charming bastard, but Dreyfuss plays him like Woody the Woodpecker: shrill, annoying, and egomaniacal.

He's met by the usually charming Holly Hunter, who sees how Dreyfuss is playing things and decides to ham it up a bit herself. The third part of this love triangle is big dumb Brad Johnson whom Dreyfuss the angel is assigned to mentor as both a pilot and a suitable replacement for him in Hunter's life. He's kind of a big loaf of bread in a lot of ways, and about as exciting to watch. Not much is done with them, and the lesson learn is a very bland moral about being kind and moving on and whatever.

Audrey Hepburn is probably the only reason Always is still ever mentioned, except, of course, by Spielberg affectionados and people who really want to sleep with ghosts. In what may be the most prophetic  roles of anyone's career, Hepburn is cast as 'Hap', an angelic figure who gives Dreyfuss his motivations for the film. And like the film itself, she looks good, but her tone is off: cloyingly sweet and wistful, she never feels as angelic as the film wants her to be.

But, hey, it looks good.

So, while Always is filled with good actors, none of them do any good acting. The set pieces and the look of the film are fantastic, but Dreyfuss's character and his transformation are too phony to seal the deal.

And that's me hurrying through a review.

Audrey Hepburn spent her last few years working as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, raising money and visiting impoverished children around the world. She died of abdominal cancer four years after Always was released, marking it as her last role and a flawed but sweet farewell to the actress. Her life wasn't always easy, and her films not always good, but she was a charitable and strong woman who made the world a better place-- which, I think, is the best thing any person can do.

I started watching through Hepburn's films for a pair of reasons, and both of them were admittedly selfish.

The first and most important, my girlfriend is a huge fan of Hepburn. Breakfast at Tiffany's is her favorite movie (though I have always found it inexplicable), and one of our first dates definitely involved a mutual revisiting of the sublime Charade. I'd hoped that by doing a a retrospective would give me an excuse to watch some of these films with her, but that didn't really pan out. My girlfriend and I operate on different schedules, which is one of the downsides to her career as a nurse, besides the constant threat of MRSA.

This is MRSA, only less cuter.

But our relationship is in no trouble, and I think she's enjoyed reading my thoughts on all these films-- though I'm still waiting to get some guff for not liking How to Steal a Million too much. I hope she still loves me after that.

The second was my puzzlement with Hepburn's mystique in America's popular culture. Walking through shopping malls, paging through magazines, or looking at billboards, TV commercials, purses, you will see Audrey Hepburn on just about anything that wants to give itself an iota of class knows whose face to license out.

It's kind of bizarre, honestly, like it's some sort extended funeral. Though I'm not sure that after my death I want to be plastered on a journal available exclusively at Barnes and Noble, maybe it's a fitting enshrinement for her impeccable and unearthly charm.

Having said that, I'm not sure there's anyone on earth who's committed a great enough atrocity to deserve this being done to their image.

And while I hope we'll never see Hepburn deferred to in the same way as, say, Jesus, it's interesting to read blogs or articles by women who have latched onto her image. There's a playful enigma behind Hepburn, one that can't be explained from biographies, bad marriages, or even great acting and beautiful scripts. She possesses a universal but low key joie de vivre that most can only envy.

To be that charming, to be that happy, to be that glamorous, to be that good is something that all people yearn to find within themselves. While they look within, they can watch it effortlessly projected on screen from a familiar but never over-familiar Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn's key to longevity may just be that she represents something good and inoffensive in everyone. That she never really seemed to understand it or exploit it only adds to that charm.

Some other assorted final thoughts that I just can't keep to myself:

  • Out of all the directors she worked with, and this pains me to say since I'm huge Billy Wilder fan, William Wyler and Stanley Donen would have to tie for my pick for the best pairing. Roman Holiday and The Children's Hour versus Two for the Road and Charade? That's like choosing my favorite dog.
  • Anyone who thinks Hepburn is just a pretty face needs to watch Two for the Road and The Nun's Story. Both proved that she has the dynamism and range that history seems unwilling to concede to her.
  • Blooodline and Young Wives Tale still piss me off, and, in retrospect, I'm amazed I let Green Mansions get off so easily. However, except in Bloodline, Hepburn was still charming; she somehow never gets mired down in the idiocy surrounding her. Bloodline is irredeemable garbage through and through, though.

Audrey Hepburn.

  • On a similar note, if my apathetic reviews didn't make it obvious, don't bother with her pre-Hollywood stuff, either she's barely in it or it barely makes sense, and often both. I also did not get to review her very first film, Monte Carlo Baby, because the only version of it I could find was French without subtitles. And while there are many ways I will go about reviewing a film, watching it without the foggiest idea is going on is not my idea of an honest review.
  • For any sap reading this and trying to pick out a movie to watch with his girlfriend, go with Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany's, My Fair Lady, or, if you girlfriend is okay with open endings, Roman Holiday. Do NOT watch Two for the Road, The Nun's Story or The Children's Hour on any romantic occasion. It's just a bad idea.
  • Though, admittedly, my girlfriend loves Wait Until Dark. Your mileage may vary on that one.
  • Along with Breakfast at Tiffany's, I still don't 'get' Funny Face. But I suppose that's my loss.
  • Some of the films on this project were rewatches, and the biggest surprise was definitely rediscovering how very much I love Roman Holiday.

In fact, I think I'm going to go watch it again right now. Thanks for tagging along.

Audrey Hepburn Sundays

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Posted by Danny

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