The Austin Chronicle

The Cemetery Club

Rated PG-13, 106 min. Directed by Bill Duke. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Diane Ladd, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Lainie Kazan, Christina Ricci, Wallace Shawn, Bernie Casey.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 12, 1993

This movie was directed by Bill Duke? The same Bill Duke who directed A Rage in Harlem and Deep Cover? Arthur Hiller maybe, or even Herbert Ross, but surely not Bill Duke. Adapted by Ivan Menchell from his off-Broadway play, The Cemetery Club is one of those forgettable movies that does nothing to distinguish itself -- it's almost painfully pedestrian. A comedy/drama about three Jewish widows coping without their spouses, it's Schlemiel Magnolias, with lots of kvetching about being alone and talk about making a new life. At times, however, The Cemetery Club is so lame -- in both its comedy and its drama -- that you yearn for Steel Magnolias a (Herbert Ross) film that was aggravating in its superficiality but nevertheless entertaining. With the exception of the beginning of a drunken post-wedding scene, there's little in this movie to convincingly suggest the familiarity of old, comfortable friendships. In fact, most of the scenes involving the widows invariably start sweet and turn sour, the one-liners usually followed by a barrage of recriminations and accusations. The three actresses try to overcome these odds, but only Burstyn -- the focal character -- comes close. (Dukakis and Ladd, both terrific performers, are odd women out most of the film; both come off as stock characters, rather than believable people.) Burstyn is best when she conveys the endearing naïveté of a woman unacquainted with the rules of modern courtship -- you really believe she's someone's grandmother. By the film's last scene, however, when she's somehow transformed into a self-assured businesswoman, she's become less interesting. But even Burstyn's talents can't salvage the hokey, embarrassing monologues in which the widows talk to the headstones on their respective husbands' graves. Like bad high school play auditions, they'll send a shiver up your spine befitting a movie with the word “cemetery” in the title.

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