UNSTRUNG HEROES is the second theatrical movie that Diane Keaton
has directed. Her long association with the great director Woody Allen
shows in the movie as does her work as a black and white photographer,
but UNSTRUNG HEROES has the Keaton's unique cinematographic stamp on
it. Unfortunately I did not like it for reasons I will get into later,
but at least she was not afraid to take risks and have characters that
were constantly on the fringe.
UNSTRUNG HEROES is the story of Steven Lidz (Nathan Watt) and his
crazy family. Some of his family is seriously mentally ill whereas
others are merely quirky. On a zaniness scale, the movie is off the
chart. Steven's dad, Sid (John Turturro), is a scientist and inventor
a la Doctor Emmett Brown in BACK TO THE FUTURE. He invents one bizarre
homemade device after another without any visible interest in
commercializing any of them.
In fact the major problem of the show is that it is not founded in
reality. Craziness works best when it comes from a plausible base. I
am a big fan of oddball characters in movies from HAROLD AND MAUDE to
PULP FICTION, but they work because the characters were believable.
Writers Elizabeth Barton and Richard LaGravenese craft characters whose
only interest comes in the unbelievably ridiculous things they do.
Moreover, although some lines are funny, most fall flat. They give Sid
such unfunny lines as "Everything can be broken down to numbers.
Science will be earth's salvation."
Steven's mother Selma (Andie MacDowell) is dying, but Sid tries to
hide it from the Steven and his sister Sandy (Kendra Krull). When
Steven finds out, he escapes the pain of seeing his mother die and goes
to live with his mentally ill uncles, Uncle Danny (Michael Richards)
and Uncle Arthur (Maury Chaykin). His uncles live in an apartment with
old newspapers stacked to the ceiling so they can barely get around.
Their closets are filled with balls of all sizes which they bounce off
of each other's heads during meals. Uncle Arthur believes that Nazis
are spying on him all of the time. He says that the slogan "I like Ike
is a secret gentile code for I hate kikes." He runs into rooms shutting
all of the windows because people in gray coats are chasing him. The
two uncles grated on my nerves so much that I want to scream every time
they were on the screen, which regrettably is a lot. The uncles tell
Steven such wisdom as "There are only eight trustworthy people in the
entire world. There were twelve, but four were assassinated."
For me the saving grace of the movie was the impressive acting by
twelve year old Nathan Watt. His ability to look so forlorn and to
deliver deep feelings without speaking was the only outstanding part of
the movie. He was so good that I would not be surprised to see him get
some supporting actor award nominations. Too bad he was in such a mess
of a movie.
There is one other memorable aspect of Unstrung Heroes - the
cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. The movie is set in the early
60s, and the colors made you believe that they shot it with the old
over saturated film of that era. I found the sets by Garreth Stover
depressing, but they were imaginative especially the outlandish
furnishing of the Uncles' apartment.
John Turturro is one of those actors who suffers from terminal
overacting unless the director keeps him in constant check. Here he
goes overboard as usual. Andie MacDowell is an inconsistent actress.
Sometimes, as in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, GROUNDHOG DAY, and FOUR
WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, she is terrific. In other movies, she stays on
autopilot. Here she was essentially forgettable.
UNSTRUNG HEROES runs only 1:33, but I still wish Lisa Churgin had
edited out the Uncles in their entirety. The movie is correctly rated
PG. It would not harm anyone, but I can not imagine anyone under 10
having any interest in the movie. I found UNSTRUNG HEROES to be a big
disappointment and a movie that grated on my nerves way too often so I
can not recommend it. I award it * for Nathan Watt's performance.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes