Thursday, September 10, 2009

An American Affair: Grade C

An American Affair (2009)
Gretchen Mol, Cameron Bright, James Rebhorn, Marc Pellegrino; Director William Olsson.

The only reason to watch this picture is Gretchen Mol, whose performance is a beacon in a dim terrain. She is a wealthy artist and divorcee in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) and also one of JFK’s many mistresses. Mol’s ex-husband (Pellegrino) is CIA and he is pressured by his boss (Rebhorn) to get Mol to warn Kennedy of vague imminent danger just prior to the assassination (an allusion to the Oliver Stone thesis). We are to believe that JFK has cut off contact with the CIA so Mol is “the only remaining line of communication.” However, she wants nothing to do with that, and anyway, JFK has dumped her and she can no longer even get into the White House. Add a rich Georgetown youth next door (Bright) who is infatuated (mostly hormonally) with Mol, and steals her diary, which implausibly looks like a schoolgirl's. The CIA must have the diary, they suspect the boy has it. This is all afterthought to lend some conceptual direction to a rambling story. Characters do not change over time, and there is no plot development other than pursuit of the diary in the last 15 minutes, so the movie is plodding and uninteresting. The boy’s search for a sexual coming of age is 100% cliché. There are numerous linguistic anachronisms. Only Mol (and to a lesser extent Rebhorn and Pellegrino) keep you awake. She captures the big screen in every scene she is in. Costumes and sets for 1963 are perfect – too perfect, not a seam out of place or a lampshade deviating from level, or even the tiniest suggestion of dust or disorder. Everything looks like museum tableaux not places people inhabit. The movie is setbound and there is no attempt to recreate the Washington of a half century ago, which would be a formidable task. Instead, cliché news clips of Kennedy are shown on TV, but that is a weak convention that doesn’t convey us to another time.

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