When British actress Emily Watson first hit the scene, she quickly rose from relative
anonymity to stardom, racking up two Oscar nominations for her emoting in
BREAKING THE WAVES and HILARY AND JACKIE. Both of those roles offered her
the opportunity to demonstrate her remarkable range. While she was a bit miscast in
ANGELA'S ASHES, Watson has proven she need not be acting with a capital A to make
an impression onscreen -- as her work in the underrated METROLAND demonstrated.
Clearly, she has talent to spare, and one can easily see why the title role in Alan Rudolph's
"screwball noir" TRIXIE might appeal to any performer looking to stretch and demonstrate
her acting chops. Trixie is a grade school dropout working as an undercover security guard
who constantly mangles language by mixing metaphors or scrambling well-known clichés.
To wit: "I've got an ace up my hole;" "I don't know whether I'm going to be an uncle or an aunt;"
"You've got to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye." Coming out of Miss Watson's
gum-chewing naif, these pronounces are at first amusing but over time become annoying.
Writer-director Alan Rudolph has spent much of his career in the shadow of his mentor
Robert Altman, and like Altman, has come to be considered an actor's director. Under his
guidance, performers as diverse as Genevieve Bujold in CHOOSE ME, Geraldine Chaplin
in REMEMBER MY NAME, Jennifer Jason Leigh in MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS
CIRCLE and Julie Christie in AFTERGLOW have delivered some of their best screen work.
If there is a consistency in Rudolph's oeuvre it is found in his scripts that are packed with
snappy dialogue and in his use of the camera which he often employs in long takes that
showcase the performers. Over a career that has spanned nearly 25 years as a director,
Rudolph continues to make idiosyncratic features that are not box office successes. Sadly,
TRIXIE is just another in that continuum.
The idea of invigorating moribund genres like screwball comedies and films noir on
paper perhaps sounded terrific. Certainly there hasn't been a great comedy in the tradition
of those of the 1930s and 40s since Peter Bogdanovich's homage WHAT'S UP, DOC? in
1972. The feminist movement and other social changes forever altered the male-female
dynamic and the whole notion of movie romance underwent a sea change in the 1970s.
There have been other tentative stabs at recreating that lost type of comedy (something
like ONE FINE DAY (1996) or MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997) come to mind) but
no filmmaker has succeeded fully in capturing that spark or recreating the chemistry of the
great screen comic lovers like Cary Grant and Irene Dunne or William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Films noir have not suffered as badly, as they are a bit easier to recreate and rely less on
socio-political ethics and more on the erotic, although one could argue that the last great
film noir was 1981's BODY HEAT. In order to fuse these two disparate genres and not
end up with either a bad parody or a noble failure, one would have to possess the genius
that unfortunately Alan Rudolph appears to lack.
TRIXIE starts somewhat promisingly but once the real story kicks in, quickly edges
toward tedium. The plot hinges on the heroine's undercover work at a casino. While on the
surface she's supposed to be prowling for pickpockets and scam artists, Trixie catches the
attentions of the studly Dex Lang (Dermot Mulroney in yet another himbo role). A lothario
unused to being rebuffed, he finds Trixie and her aloofness a challenge; of course, they
eventually declare their feelings of mutual attraction. Dex is employed by a sleazy land
developer (the reliably oleaginous Will Patton) who is in business with a crazy politician
(a slightly over-the-top Nick Nolte) and who is carrying on an affair with an over-the-hill
chanteuse (Lesley Ann Warren, whose considerably capabilities are wasted here in a
nothing part). After a confrontation with the developer on a yacht, Trixie smells a rat and
begins to sniff around. When Warren's singer disappears, the plot kicks into high gear,
leading to a murder which test the perceptive abilities of Watson's Trixie. Rounding out the
potential list of suspects is a Borscht Belt comic (Nathan Lane, polishing his obnoxious
persona to the hilt) and a youthful barfly (Brittany Murphy).
Perhaps if Rudolph had concentrated more on the noir aspects of the story, he
may have made a better film. The problems lie in the attempt to forge a hybrid and the
"screwball" aspects fall flat. Watson and Mulroney don't exactly strike sparks either, so there's
little rooting interest in seeing them come together as a couple. Both are fine actors and
both do their best given the limitations of the script. The moonfaced Watson actually fares
better in a confrontation scene with Nolte who has some of the best moments in the film.
Unfortunately, in indulging his actors, Rudolph doesn't quite know when to cut away. Nolte
has a breakdown scene that could have been stunning in execution but it runs on a tad too
long and the actor pitches the emotion just a bit too high.
TRIXIE overall looks lovely under the hands of director of photography Jan Kiesser
(making British Columbia stand in for any port town in the USA) and production designers
Richard Paris and Linda Del Rosario. While Rudolph may remain out of the mainstream, true
aficionados of his work will not want to miss this well-intentioned, if misguided, effort.
Rating: C -
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.