Friday, September 9, 2011

Reunited and it Feels So Gab!

Werth: Hello, Wise!

Wise: Werth!  Welcome back from your high school reunion weekend!  How was it seeing your old school chums?  

Werth: On the whole, pretty darned swell. I haven't seen Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion, but I assume my reunion was very similar... only with more Mike's Hard Lemonade—  

Wise: And less Alan Cumming in freaky make-up.  

Werth: Alan Cummings wishes he was in the class of '91. 

Wise: High school reunions have often provided fodder for great films, and one of my all-time favorites is Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).  Kathleen Turner plays Peggy Sue, a woman flummoxed by adulthood and by the infidelities of her husband Charlie (Nicolas Cage).  Despite her marriage being in shambles, she decides to attend her 25 year reunion.  After a few awkward encounters with barely recognizable old friends, Peggy is stunned to discover that she has been elected queen of the reunion, but when she ascends the stage to accept the honor, the lights and her confusion cause her to faint.  

Werth: Being married to Nicolas Cage would make anyone pass out.  

Wise: She wakes up only to realize that somehow she has been transported back to her senior year of high school.  At first she thinks she has died, but gradually she realizes that she has been given a second chance at figuring out her life.  She begins by telling off the mean girls in high school and informing her math teacher that she will never, in fact, use algebra ever again.  
Gradually, however, she starts to explore the possibilities her youth had offered but which she never explored until, ultimately, she must decide between the future she knows and the one she doesn't.  

Werth: I'd go for the one without Nicolas Cage.

Wise: The film is full of great performances, most notably Kathleen Turner's Oscar nominated Peggy, but also memorable turns from soon-to-be stars like Helen Hunt, Joan Allen, and Jim Carey, as well as established stars like Barbara Harris as Peggy's mother.  But the two most touching performances come from Leon Ames and Maureen O'Sullivan as Peggy's grandparents.  These stalwarts from the Golden Age of Hollywood both ground the film's emotions and allow for the supernatural flights of fancy that make the film's slippery chronology possible.  

Werth: Speaking of slippery, did Maureen wear her Jane costume?

Wise: Part of what makes Peggy Sue Got Married so moving is that it doesn't simply cater to nerd revenge fantasies or romantic pipe dreams; instead, the film is a meditation on the passage of time and the consequences of small decisions as they reverberate throughout the years. 

Werth: The consequences of a reunion are more deadly in the thriller, Thirteen Women (1932). Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) sends out a call to some of her old girl-schoolmates for a reunion dinner in Los Angeles. This gathering is not just an opportunity to catch up on lost time or to see how fat everyone's gotten. These women have all been getting their horoscopes mailed to them by renowned astrologer Swami Yogadachi, but recently "you will meet a dark stranger" has turned into "buy a funeral plot."

Wise: At least he didn't bake cyanide tablets into fortune cookies. 

Werth: Three friends have already been affected by these miserable missives and wound up dead or locked up. Laura hopes to convince her remaining friends that it's all hogwash, but when someone tries to poison her only son, she starts to get the heebie jeebies. As girlfriends and the swami himself drop like flies, it becomes obvious that someone else is looking into the crystal ball. And it is none other than former Eurasian classmate, Ursula Georgy (Myrna Loy). For Ursula, revenge for the "half-breed" taunting she received in school is a dish best served in your horoscope.

Wise: I'll take my Sagittarius extra spicy with a side of sticky rice. 

Werth: 1932 was a very Asian year for Loy because she was also cast as diabolical Fah Lo See in The Mask of Fu Manchu. Myrna Adele Williams was as whitebread as her birthplace in Montana, but somehow the studio contrived ways of turning her into an Asian femme fatale—and Loy made the most of it. 
In Thirteen Girls she is lithe in form-fitting, exotic gowns with eyes that are both wicked, sexy and pitiless. Like a cobra she glides into the lives of those she wants to manipulate, literally hypnotizing and using them to fulfill her righteous rage at these privileged girls who teased her mercilessly. 

Wise:Was this the prototype for Gossip Girl

Werth: While it sounds racially campy that the same woman who played Nora Charles is also portraying a "Hindu dame," Loy made Ursula poised and elegant without a silly accent or exaggerated mannerisms. It makes one wonder if young producer David O. Selznick could have re-imagined the character from Tiffany Thayer's "startling" book, dumped the race-baiting plotline and just let Loy be an evil white lady with a private school axe to grind.

Wise: But then she wouldn't get to wear all that dark eyeliner.

Werth: True. But as it is, Loy (and the always earth-ily charming Irene Dunne) make the silly plot of Thirteen Women a reunion worth going to.

Wise: I notice that Thirteen Women isn't available on DVD.

Werth: Perhaps by the time I go to another high school reunion it will be.

Wise: Luckily our readers will only have to wait a week to be reunited with the next edition of Film Gab!

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