Love and Death on Long Island
1997, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Richard Kwietniowski. Starring John Hurt, Jason Priestley, Fiona Loewi, Sheila Hancock, Maury Chaykin, Gawn Grainger.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 27, 1998
Every one of us is a fool for love, even stuffy English writer Giles De'Ath (pronounced as Day-ahth, the character hastens to remind us). Brilliantly portrayed by John Hurt, whose every gesture and facial expression speaks volumes, De'Ath is a British dinosaur who regards the 20th century as anathema. He's described in a newspaper blurb as “an erstwhile fogey, now cult.” A widower whose life is regimented by stringent order, he's the last person one might expect to find tangled up head over heels. But not only is he goofy in love, the unlikely object of De'Ath's exultation is a teen movie idol whom he's never met: Ronnie Bostock (Priestley), the hunky star of Hotpants College II. De'Ath discovers Ronnie quite by accident: Locked out of his apartment in the rain, De'Ath wanders into a movie theatre because he's heard that E.M. Forster's works are now onscreen. Instead he finds this Porky's-like trifle and is about to leave when the face of Ronnie Bostock glues him to his seat. From that moment on he's hooked: He's buying teen magazines as though they were porn and memorizing every sacred word (Ronnie's favorite author is Stephen King, his favorite musician is Axl Rose); he cuts out photos of “snoggable” Ronnie and pastes them in an album he sweetly labels “Bostockiana”; he seeks out Ronnie's other films (films with titles like Tex-Mex and Skid Marks), even though Sight and Sound describes them as having no redeeming social value. His obsession leads to his purchase of a VCR even though he can't tell the difference between a VCR and a microwave and once he gets it home he rudely discovers that he also needs a television to make it operate. Finally, De'Ath travels to the States and takes up residence in a no-tell motel located in the little Long Island town where Ronnie is reported to own a home. His hilarious attempts at sleuthing eventually lead him to Ronnie's live-in girlfriend Audrey (Loewi) and finally to the object of his dreams, Ronnie. De'Ath insinuates himself into the couple's household, flattering Ronnie by comparing Hotpants College II with Shakespeare and telling him what a huge star he is in Europe. De'Ath's love is all-encompassing but curiously non-sexual. Unfortunately, the film can figure no satisfying way to bring this whole situation to conclusion. But until that point, Love and Death on Long Island is the height of drollery, a cheeky ode to the liberating power of popular culture, and a fascinating look at an old dog learning some new tricks. Writer-director Kwietniowski makes his feature film debut with this adaptation of British film critic Gilbert Adair's cult novel of the same title, which of course owes a debt to Thomas Mann's novella of a slightly different title. Hurt hasn't had a role this delicious in quite some time and his turn here is a welcome delight. It's almost enough to fill an unsuspecting viewer with l'amour fou.