Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sweet Liberty (1986)

Sweet Misery

- Somewhere between Genesis 1:1 and the current date, Alan Alda got famous. Do not ask me how it happened - it is more of a mystery than the inner workings of the universe. Sweet Liberty (1986) was Alda's first directed film since his days on "M.A.S.H." came to an end and the "sweetness" of the film, if it has any, is defined by brand of pretension and awkwardness that only Alan Alda can deliver. It is not enough that Alda writes and directs this pretentious bore, he also plays the shallow lead role.

Michael Burgess (Alda) - a winy know-it-all author who is in love with himself more than anything else - did not write his scholarly work on the American Revolution to make a movie. But how could he pass up the opportunity to make some extra cash through selling film rights? Michael's Hollywood experience brings him more than just some mailbox money however, as he clashes with eccentric back-stabbing movie stars (Michael Caine, Michelle Pfeiffer)  and a pair of Hollywood hacks (Bob Hoskins, Saul Rubinek) who prefer to pander for box office success rather than produce an accurate historical screen account of the American Revolution. Naturally, Michael needs none of this as his mother (Lillian Gish) is slowly dying of dimentia and his relationship with girlfriend Gretchen (Lise Hilboldt) is beginning to suffocate him. Laughing yet?

Sweet Liberty has one great sweet spot: its cast. Alan Alda headlines a terrific group that completely overshadows him and could do so with one hand tied behind their backs. The film's clear highlight is Michael Caine's hilarious performance as the charming but demanding, tom-catting movie star Elliot James but Bond girl Lois Chiles, the underrated Saul Rubinek, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, the great Bob Hoskins, the legendary Lillian Gish and an impressive unknown Lise Hilboldt are all fantastic in the film as well. With a great supporting cast such as this, only the writing, direction and lead performance could possibly ruin this film.... Enter Alan Alda.

The biggest problem with "M.A.S.H" once Alan Alda gained more creative control was that the show became more pretentious, preachy, saccharine and less funny than it already was. Sweet Liberty likewise suffers from similar problems; actually getting worse as it goes on through to the strange bubbly ending. The film appears to be an attempt at a satirical jab at the Hollywood machine but the themes never really materialize and the jokes do not land much of a blow. Alda's own individual writing and acting style that defines the film feels on the one hand too reminiscent of Neil Simon and Woody Allen (Alda having experience with material from both writers throughout his career) except that it lacks the wit and engaging characters threading throughout the works of both writers. And the only thing more damaging to the film than the writing is Alda's direction. The photography and general style fail to excite and the frequency of which Alda inserts cliched 80s scene montages (set to what sounds like Mannheim Steamroller playing at a Chuck'E'Cheese) is puzzling to say the least. Not without its enjoyable moments (mostly thanks to a great supporting cast) but hyped up on its own misplaced sense of self importance, Sweet Liberty ultimately ODs on the triple dose of Alan Alda.

CBC Rating: 5/10


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