Sunday, January 9, 2011

Guinevere (1999) [R] ****

Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley) feels like a misfit. It's her older sister's wedding day, and while Harper is supposed to go to law school in the fall, she feels out of place in a family in which her domineering, emasculating mother (Jean Smart), her compliant father, and her brilliant sister are all successful San Francisco attorneys. Harper wants to rebel, to run away more than anything, because she doesn't really want to go to law school.

And then she meets Cornelius Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea), the wedding photographer. He's straight out of San Francisco of the 1960s, Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation, the Black Hawk and Hungry I nightclubs and the City Lights bookstore. Connie has a bohemian philosophy and a North Beach loft. He takes a pensive, soul-revealing photograph of Harper at the wedding, signs it To Guinevere and offers her a way out. She can live in his loft with him. All she has to do is work, create something... photograph, paint, sculpt, write or dance. And, of course, share his bed.

And so Harper makes a choice to stay with Connie, to learn from him. What she doesn't know is that she is only the latest in a long line of starry-eyed ingenues who have been Guinevere to this aging alcoholic photographer. Inevitably Harper falls in love with Connie, with his past celebrity as a North Beach photographer, and just as inevitably he breaks her heart. Somehow Harper and Connie both know when their relationship has run its course, and the inevitable ending leaves Harper older, sadder and wiser.

As a modern, sensitive portrayal of the classic Svengali story, Guinevere works because of an excellent screenplay, a great supporting cast, and because Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea are so believable in their roles. If you enjoy character-driven, romantic dramas about artists and the process of creating art, films like The Anniversary PartyHow to Make an American Quilt, Sirens, Still Breathing and The Shape of Things, then you might enjoy Guinevere.

Labels: drama, romance, tragedy     

Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 68/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=69, viewers=62)

NOTE: Writer/director Audrey Wells might have modeled the character of Cornelius Connie Fitzpatrick after noted S.F. Bay Area photographer Jerry Stoll (b.1924 - d.2004). One of Stoll's best-known publications was his popular photo-essay book I AM A LOVER (1961), with selected comments by Evan S. Connell, Jr.

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