Love & Death on Long Island
directed by Richard Kwiethiowski
(Cinepix, 1997)

Just when you thought filmdom couldn't make one more love story that says something new about life's oldest problem, along comes Richard Kwietniowski to prove you wrong.

Kwietniowski (don't ask me to pronounce it), is the director of Love & Death on Long Island, a romantic comedy that offers an unusual perspective on love triangles.

Staid British author Giles De'Ath (John Hurt) is a longtime recluse who boasts of only a passing acquaintanceship with the 20th century. When asked during a BBC interview if he uses a word processor, he replies coolly, "I am a writer. I don't process words." But a series of accidents puts De'Ath on a collision course with the Brave New World, and what De'Ath finds there delights him in ways he never thought possible.

Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley) is a Hollywood teen idol, fresh from the megahit College Hot Pants II. He's now hard at work on a follow-up, College Hot Pants III, though what he really wants to do is break through into serious acting.

De'Ath discovers Bostock quite by accident: He buys a ticket to see the latest E.M. Forster adaption, only to wind up sitting through Hot Pants II. "This isn't Forster," he intones angrily to no one in particular. He's right, and frightfully funny.

Later that day, De'Ath makes a second accidental discovery: The VCR. Soon De'Ath is totally conversant in the early works of his teen heartthrob -- and totally infatuated with him. Shortly thereafter, De'Ath hops a plane to Long Island in hopes of choreographing a chance encounter with the young actor.

This may not sound like the stuff of romantic comedy, but in Kwietniowski's hands, it is. That's partly because it has an extremely literate script, and partly because it contains an idiosyncratic performance by John Hurt as the love-struck author.

De'Ath is as out of place on Long Island as he is in the 20th century, and Hurt plays that awkwardness to the hilt. Every hair on his head perfectly in place, even when he's walking on the beach, and his suit never comes off. We can only assume he showers in it.

The schtick reaches its peak with De'Ath's early forays around Bostock's hometown. Too shy to inquire about him, De'Ath wanders about the village talking around the subject of what he's doing there to anyone who'll listen. But the audience knows what he's up to, even if De'Ath isn't entirely sure, and the result is a delicious dramatic irony.

Equally impressive is Fiona Loewi as Bostock's fiance, Audrey, who first brings De'Ath into the couple's home and is the first to spot De'Ath as a potential, and potentially serious, rival. When De'Ath pleads with her not to take Bostock out of town for a few days because, he says, they need to work on his script, Audrey simply looks at him and says, "You're good." She's right; she knows it; and the audience knows it, too.

Love & Death on Long Island is a story within a story that offers few clues to where it's going or how it's going to get there. But what it has to say about the human condition makes the trip worthwhile.

It treats an impossible romance -- one that transcends class, culture, age and gender -- with dignity, grace and humor. A better prescription for a film would be hard to find.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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