The Austin Chronicle

When a Man Loves a Woman

Rated R, 126 min. Directed by Luis Mandoki. Starring Meg Ryan, Andy Garcia, Tina Majorino, Lauren Tom, Ellen Burstyn.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., May 13, 1994

Though it takes its name from Percy Sledge's Sixties hit and leads off with it on the soundtrack, this film by director Mandoki (Gaby -- A True Story, White Palace) is no raw R&B romance of him for her, ripped from a passionate decade. This is a film very much of its time, a tale of the Age of Recovery, when alcoholism isn't a problem just of the drinker and one which can be solved, it's a condition to be lived with by the alcoholic and everyone in his or her life, one for which control must be relinquished and responsibility accepted. Writers Ronald Bass and Al Franken (yes, the man behind the 12-Stepper's 12-Stepper, Stuart Smalley) have penned an upward spiral, if you will, an answer to the downward slides of other films on alcoholism. They focus on Ryan's character's struggle to reclaim her life once she accepts her disease, taking her through detox, AA, and re-entry into the world. It's also the story of her husband (Garcia), his recovery odyssey into Alanon, the group for family members of alcoholics, and this couple's battle to keep their love alive. It's all handled sensitively, with a sensibility and aesthetic quality that seems purely Nineties. The film moves at a measured pace, giving us ample time to absorb the characters' pain, showing them in close-ups that reveal every shading in their faces. The score hums with acoustic music and nearly every scene is awash in golden light. The film is almost disconcertingly gorgeous: the light, Ryan and Garcia, their lovely home, the San Francisco scenery. But if you can get past the conspicuous beauty, there's honesty in the pain portrayed. Ryan and Garcia do admirable work, subtly revealing the hairline cracks appearing in their pristine lives. And Tina Majorino, as their young daughter, provides the raw pain of an innocent child caught in the path of runaway adult passions and weaknesses and crushed by them. The overall feel of the picture is that of a long slow draw of a bow across a cello. It's soulful but not like an old soul tune. If they had to name this film for a song, they would have done better by the R.E.M. number they play in it: “Everybody Hurts.”

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