The considerable pleasures of watching Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, and Geoffrey Rush displaying all of their combined charm and talent are repeatedly tripped up by a lame script that wastes not just its stars but also an enticing premise.
Hawn plays Suzette, an aging free spirit who never quite left the 60’s. She is still working as a bartender in a club and sees herself as the same girl who dropped out of high school to go to concerts and have sex with musicians. But the rock stars who perform there and the club manager are not impressed. She loses her job. So, she decides to find her one-time best pal, Vinnie (Susan Sarandon). But Vinnie is now Lavinia, the very proper of two teen-agers and wife of a lawyer with political ambitions, and she has done her best to eradicate any vestige of her wild youth, even from her own memory. One is all about sensation and the moment and the other is all about being careful and fitting in.
Hawn is marvelous as Suzette, who could be an older version of the Penny Lane character played by her daughter, Kate Hudson, in “Almost Famous.” Hawn shows us not just Suzette’s spirit but also her vulnerability. Suzette has had sex for every possible reason except intimacy. She has given sexual favors to get close to rock stars and to show herself and others that she is a wild and amazing person. When she offers herself to Harry (Rush), a man she met on the road, just to get a place to stay, we see that she has almost completely lost the notion of herself as precious. But then, when she runs into Vinnie’s daughter Hannah (“Traffic’s” Erika Christensen), having a bad acid trip at her high school graduation party, we also see that she can respond to the preciousness of other people. She cares for Hannah tenderly, causing Harry – and the audience – to see that she is more than a careless party girl.
At first, Vinnie is horrified to see Suzette, and offers her $5000 to go away. But Suzette won’t take it. As desperate as she is for money, she finds that she wants friendship even more. And then, as Vinnie discovers that despite her best efforts, she has not been able to protect her daughters from taking risks, she begins to long for that part of herself that was adventuresome and colorful.
Sarandon and Rush are also marvelous, giving Vinnie and Harry vastly more interest than the script does. They are so good that the idiotic arbitrariness of the script doesn’t leap off the screen the way it should. For example, Harry is horrified by his bus trip because two flies landed on his hand and had sex (I know, that was my reaction, too – huh??). So, what does he do? He abandons the bus to ride in Suzette’s skuzzy beat-up car. A character has a loaded gun, a teenager uses drugs and has sex with a possibly untrustworthy boyfriend, another teenager drives without a license and hits a parked car – these are all events that seem to be thrown into the plot so that characters can react to them and then are just abandoned. Characters completely change their minds for no reason.
Families should know that the movie has very strong language, sexual situations and explicit references that include teen sex, a variety of sexual acts, and photographic souvenirs of sexual encounters. Characters drink and use drugs, including teenagers. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are portrayed as emblems of liberation and a fulfilling life. A character says he plans to shoot his father.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Suzette and Vinnie were changed by their reunion. How will Vinnie’s relationship with her family change? Families should also talk about how much of her past Vinnie should have discussed with her daughters and what they think she was doing well or badly as a mother of teenagers. Parents may want to use this movie to talk about their own choices as teens and how that affected the messages they tried to send their children. Vinnie’s daughter says “You’re allowed to fail; I’m not.” Vinnie says, “I’m just trying to keep you safe.” Harry also wants to be safe. How much risk and how much failure should parents expect or allow from their kids? What does your family think of Suzette’s view that people who love each other fight and argue, and she wants to have someone to argue with. And parents should make sure that their children know the difference between Jim Morrison and Van Morrison!
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Almost Famous” and another movie about two middle-aged women who reunite after going in very different directions, “The Turning Point.”