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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hurlyburly

Starring: Sean Penn, Robin Wright
Director: Anthony Drazan
Rated: R
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genre: Drama

Review by Greg King
2 stars out of 4

Those audiences who relished the abrasive In The Company Of Men will probably find much to enjoy about Hurlyburly, an uncomfortably vicious comedy that shares a similarly wicked misanthropic streak. Others will find it a distinctly unsatisfying and disturbing experience.

In this screen adaptation of his Tony award winning play, writer David Rabe strips away the gloss and glitter behind the American Dream to find a more disturbing reality. Rabe exposes a hidden, sordid underbelly of male bonding, power games, drugs, and a group of thoroughly unsavoury characters adrift in a sea of sharks. The film is set against the background of Hollywood during the hedonistic '80's, when the excesses and the gratuitous abuse of sex, alcohol and cocaine were more acceptable.

Hurlyburly traces the downward spiral of Eddie (Sean Penn), a former high flying casting agent on a path to oblivion. His room mate and business partner Mickey (Kevin Spacey) watches Eddie's self destructive path with equal parts bemusement and scorn. To make matters worse, the pair are both involved in a relationship with the same woman, Darlene (Robin Wright Penn, recently seen in She's So Lovely, etc).

Director Anthony Drazan (the little seen drama Imaginary Crimes, etc) fails to open the material up from its stage origins. The dialogue remains horribly pretentious and artificial. Most of the action occurs within the confines of Eddie's ugly, modern, glass-walled Hollywood Hills pad, and the film becomes claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Chinese born cinematographer Gu Chang Wei (who has worked with acclaimed directors of the calibre of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou) effectively uses uncompromising close-ups to capture the disintegration of these unlikeable characters. Both Penn and Spacey performed their roles in various stage incarnations of Hurlyburly. They slip comfortably into their familiar roles, revealing an understanding of these unsavoury characters and their shallow emotional ties. Penn seems to have cornered the niche in playing intensely neurotic characters lately, and he brings a certain desperation and manic quality to his performance as the pitiful Eddie. Spacey is at his silky smooth, sarcastic and droll best here, and relishes the occasionally caustic and bitchy dialogue.

Chazz Palminteri brings a volatile edge to his performance as Phil, the former jail bird and wannabe actor, unaware of his limitations and his aggressive demeanour. Largely cast against type, Meg Ryan brings a vulnerability to her role as Bonnie, the hooker who is briefly brought into this turbulent environment as a blind date for Phil. Tv comic Garry Shandling is wonderfully sleazy as an amoral producer. Anna Paquin has certainly grown up since winning an Oscar for The Piano, and her performance as Donna, the sexually precocious, street wise teenage drifter, may shock and surprise.

The uniformly strong performances from the ensemble cast lift the material. But, ultimately, one can't escape the feeling that Hurlyburly is little more than a filmed play, and one with a rather bleak and probably unpalatable viewpoint at that.

Copyright 1998 Greg King

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