Directed by James Lapine. Starring Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Julian Sand, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin. (1991, PG-13, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., May 24, 1991
It seems like the minute you dress characters up in period costumes, they're going to behave very badly towards each other -- downright bitchy if you will. Filmmakers are probably afraid that modern audiences will head for the door if a little sex and bad behavior is not introduced very soon in the action. They may be right. In fact, the heart of the sexual intrigue is not introduced soon enough in this story of the adventures of writer George Sand, Franz Liszt and his mistress Marie d'Agoult, Chopin, and a chorus of innocent bystanders. For the first part of the film, Sand struts around in very becoming male drag, tossing around bon mots while her castoff lovers sigh. As could be expected, Sand plays Liszt with a sophisticated world-weariness that is becoming, but not very interesting. It's Peters who has all the fun as Liszt's jealous mistress. Her frills provide wry counterpoint to Davis' more macho version of femininity. When Sand confides her ambition to capture Chopin, Marie becomes determined to sabotage the affair. One bystander comments to Sand that Marie “doesn't want you to have a better composer than she has.” That's as good as any reason we're given for Marie's maliciousness and distress. Most of the time, however, we're distracted from lapses in character development by Davis' performance. She has droll and ironic down pat, but she also adds a seductive honesty that draws us to the character. As a salon full of characters, Impromptu provides great fly on the wall fun, that saves it from the fact that as a narrative, it fails to provide the tightly plotted sexual intrigue we've come to expect from period pieces.