Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Gillian on her 37th Birthday (1996) [PG-13] ***

David (Peter Gallagher) is a literature professor. He's been living on Nantucket Island with his sixteen year old daughter Rachel (Claire Danes) since his wife Gillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) died tragically on her birthday, exactly two years earlier, when she fell from the mast of their sailboat. Since then, David's dealt with his grief by becoming a recluse; he continues to have night beach walks and conversations with his dead wife, and has grown distant from Rachel.

Now it's the end of the summer, and David's preparing to celebrate Gillian's 37th birthday. Rachel is back after having spent the summer on the mainland with her Aunt Esther (Kathy Baker) and Uncle Paul (Bruce Altman). And this weekend, Esther and Paul arrive on the island to be with David and Rachel on Gillian's Day - and Esther has brought a female friend Kevin (Wendy Crewson) as a surprise date for David. While the fantasy-world time David spends with Gillian is blissful and soft-focused, the real-world time he spends with her older sister Esther is harsh and painful. Esther wants David to get a grip on reality, and while her female friend Kevin represents the carrot, Esther also has a stick; she's prepared to take legal action to get custody of Rachel. The contrast between tall, gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer and short, homely Kathy Baker could not be greater, so it's easy to sympathize with David and demonize Esther. However, the situation is not black and white, and Esther can make a strong case, as the viewer will discover.

The fundamental question is: what's best for Rachel? The screenplay was written by David E. Kelley (Michelle Pfeiffer's real-life husband), from a stage play, and it's an exercise in exploring human desires for love and companionship, and how we satisfy those desires. While the script, direction and acting are all excellent, this is an unusual romantic drama, and it will be best appreciated by fans of the cast members, especially Peter Gallagher and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Labels: drama, romance, teenager
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=47, viewers=60)