Grief

1993, NR, 87 min. Directed by Richard Glatzer. Starring Alexis Arquette, Jackie Beat, Craig Chester, Illeana Douglas, Lucy Gutteridge, Carlton Wilborn.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 3, 1994

A most unlikely titled comedy, Grief is something like what Soapdish might have been if John Waters had scripted the movie. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the entangled lives of the co-workers in the production office of a tacky daytime TV courtroom show, The Love Judge. Though Grief marks Glatzer's debut as a director, he has edited a book about film and is a well-known presence on the Los Angeles club scene, and, moreover, spent five years as a producer of TV's exemplar, Divorce Court. Best described as no-budget rather than low-budget, Grief's technical attributes are strictly no-frills, with intermittent sound problems and limited shooting choices. But such deficiencies pale in light of the movie's overriding wit, humor, and engaging performances. Grief is one funny movie. It takes place over the course of one week in the cramped offices of the writers and producer of The Love Judge. Hand-scrolled title cards introduce each new day of the week, helping to foster the sense of this production team's lives as the real soap opera. The story is framed by the contemplation of death by story editor Mark (Chester) as the one-year anniversary of his lover's death from AIDS approaches. He is thrust into competition with career woman Paula (Gutteridge) for promotion to producer when current producer Jo (dragster Jackie Beat, aka Kent Fuher) announces her plans to marry and move to Prague. Her departure plans, however, do not completely divert this zaftig mother hen's attention from the new semen stains she finds on her office couch each morning. Mark's anxiety is also heightened by his crush on his straight co-worker Bill (Arquette), who has just broken up with his girlfriend and is sending out mixed signals to various parties. Longtime pal and fellow writer Jeremy (Wilborn) tells Mark that he is misreading the situation but is the handsome stud really telling the truth? Producer's assistant Leslie (Douglas -- De Niro's scarred-for-life bed partner in Cape Fear) really longs to be a writer but the restive party girl spends more time with the cute and ever-present copy machine repairman than engaging in career pursuits. And they all live and die by the whims of the homophobic executive producers (“pond scum”) who are never seen on camera but exercise their powers from floors above. Intercut with all this campy material are hilarious video clips from The Love Judge that feature stories about circus lesbians, lepers, feuding dog breeders, and Tourette's victims. In these clips, familiar faces pop up as lawyers and litigants, featuring cameos from Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, John Fleck, and Johanna Went; the love judge is played by Mickey Cottrell (My Own Private Idaho). Occasionally, the movie's momentum gets waylaid by some dead-end campiness that goes nowhere but, for the most part, the dialogue and situations are sharp and funny. The milieu of the production office is exactly right with its always broken-down copier, tight quarters, chaotic-seeming sheaves of paper, inexplicable doodads everywhere, and mostly, its office camaraderie that supersedes the office politics. Permit it a few indulgences, and you, too, will find yourself stricken with Grief.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Grief, Richard Glatzer, Alexis Arquette, Jackie Beat, Craig Chester, Illeana Douglas, Lucy Gutteridge, Carlton Wilborn

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