After 20 minutes, you might want it to shut up.
In the manner of TV soap opera, certain popular cop shows and several far superior films by Robert Altman, Carroll leapfrogs among half-a-dozen seemingly unrelated story lines, illustrating just how tough it is to connect in this big, bad world. Rowlands and Connery are a well-heeled couple on the verge of their 40th anniversary, but they are emotionally threatened by the memory of an old infidelity. Dennis Quaid shows up as a chameleonic loner who lays a new tale of personal woe on a new woman in a new bar every night. The X-Files' Gillian Anderson is a buttoned-up theater director who can't commit when the right man (Jon Stewart) comes along. Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards are hotel-room lovers who check their real lives at the front desk. Jolie is a glib but lonely dance-club babe who discovers a new kind of intimacy with a boy who never dates (Phillippe). Burstyn is a mother exchanging truths with her dying son.

Let's see. In this exploration of love and human condition, Carroll gives us, among other elements, three troubled marriages, two cases of AIDS, three pampered pet dogs (one of them the size of a racehorse), one drag queen and a TV chef who drops fish on the kitchen floor but never fluffs a line. Here's news: In the end, all the episodes turn out to be related!

Of course anyone who's gotten through the fourth grade will have figured that out by the second reel.

What's harder to figure out is the sheer volume of talk we must endure -- ceaseless, wall-to-wall palaver, some of it witty, a lot of it familiar, all of it highly conceptual -- about "relationships." This despite the very caution from which the movie sprang. To hear Carroll tell it, a friend once made the observation, which struck him deeply, that "talking about love is like dancing about architecture." In other words, impossible. Nonetheless, the director made an entire movie in defiance of his friend's profundity. Let us give thanks, at least, that it is no longer titled, as it was in its pre-release days, Dancing About Architecture.

Did I say Jerry Springer? Playing by Heart (not unlike Grand Canyon or The Big Chill or other gabathons perpetrated by Lawrence Kasdan) comes across as Springer for the art-house crowd, for people who have advanced degrees but who aren't much interested in anything beyond their own emotional concerns. Did I say sincere? You could ladle the righteous fellow-feeling and hand-wringing "candor" off this movie's surface like so much grenadine.

Some will find it profound.
OpensJan. 22 at the Plaza Frontenac.
-- Bill Gallo

THE THEORY OF FLIGHT
Directed by Paul Greengrass

The cold-hearted among us have watched Camille die tragically on the late show and have seen Brian Piccolo run his last yard through the cancer ward often enough to understand the several hazards of Hollywood "disease movies" -- false sentiment, synthetic emotion and tears for tears' sake. It is with wariness, then, that skeptics will approach The Theory of Flight. It is, after all, a love story linking a failed painter and a young woman suffering from incurable Lou Gehrig's disease. Three minutes in, you know the heroine will check out. Then the hanky-wringing begins in earnest.

But let's not be too hasty. First of all, Flight was made not in the mushy Hollywood of Love Story but in the upright England of Mrs. Brown. Second, it features the acting services of two notable antisentimentalists, now very much in love off the screen: the splendid Helena Bonham Carter and the devoted Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh. Third, it can be a screamingly funny movie -- and a flagrantly bawdy one -- even as it's thrumming away on our heartstrings.

Said another way, writer Richard Hawkins, director Paul Greengrass (who started out as a documentarian) and this sublime pair of actors have fiddled with the conventions of the genre enough to reinvent it, at least in part. Who won't be delighted when Bonham Carter's doomed, wheelchair-bound heroine Jane shoplifts a box of tampons at the supermarket, and when she turns up the volume on her voice simulator and assaults a restaurant full of people with a blare of recorded expletives? Is Jane rebellious? Sure. Smart? You bet. Self-pitying? Not in this lifetime. In fact, the only thing she says she wants before dying is to lose her virginity.

Her reluctant partner in this quest is Richard (Branagh), whose bank account is empty, whose career in art is a wreck and whose domestic life is a failure. What to do? Why, stitch all your lousy paintings together in the shape of a parasail and leap off a building. For this act, more prank than crime, Richard is sentenced to 120 hours of community service -- specifically, to taking rebellious Jane on a series of weekly outings.

Her greeting to him: "You sorry, lonely fucker."
As it happens, though, they are natural soulmates. Both are damaged. Both are eccentric. Both are floundering in life. And together they learn that the word "flight" has several meanings: It can mean escape, and it can mean soaring. But unlike the relationships in most disease movies, this one is blessedly free of hearts and flowers. Jane and Richard bicker. They crack dark jokes about disability. They go to London to fulfill Jane's fond last wish -- a plan that might just involve bank robbery and the services of a high-priced gigolo.

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