The New Age
1994 Directed by Michael Tolkin. Starring Judy Davis, Peter Weller, Adam West, Patrick Bauchau, John Diehl, Paula Marshall, Corbin Bernsen, Samuel L. Jackson.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Dec. 9, 1994
In a juxtaposition reminiscent of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Michael Tolkin's latest film poses two philosophies. Spiritual leader Jean Levy (Bauchau) advises, “Live with the question,” while agent-turned-entrepreneur Peter Witner (Weller) asks, “Did you know that in Chinese the word for crisis is the same word for opportunity?” What at first may seem like polar opposites become, on closer inspection, two versions of the same karmic babble. Although not as profound as the teachings of Malcolm X and Dr. King that resound through Lee's movie, these meaningless statements do sum up Tolkin's jaundiced take on the whole New Age phenomenon as seen in Beverly Hills. Similar to the theme of Tolkin's 1991 film The Rapture, The New Age explores the consequences of the lifestyle choices made by the film's protagonists. Peter and Katherine (Davis) are a married couple struggling to merge their need to decompress from each other and Los Angeles reality with their desire to stay hip. Having both quit their jobs, his as an agent and hers as a graphic designer, they throw a party to celebrate and to regroup. Deciding that shopping is what they do best, Peter and Katherine open an expensive clothing boutique cheekily called Hypocracy. Tolkin's approach to The New Age is less clever than his adaptation of his novel The Player for director Robert Altman. Some may see this lack of punch as a detriment, but Weller and Davis admirably play their parts as alternately manic and believably three-dimensional. These characters are superficial, but they know they are. Discussing their mutual death fantasies during one of many moments of self-indulgent despair, Peter says to Katherine, “Bet you know what you're gonna wear.” Of course she does (a summery little floral number), but at least she can laugh at herself. Peter, however, lacks some of Katherine's self-awareness. While he's searching for the answer to life's question in the beds of various ingenues, Katherine seems to be approaching enlightenment on a more realistic, if frustrated, level. Tolkin's characters are annoying, yet there is something appealing in their misguided and consumer-driven search for the higher meaning. Tolkin's script may not measure up to the fast-paced verbal sparring of The Player but Judy Davis' performance is, as always, mesmerizing and hilarious. Her character vocalizes every neurosis and embarrassing thought while managing to keep her matte lipstick looking fresh. The music adds to the film as well, creating a somewhat surreal atmosphere for the characters to roam around in. An extra bonus is Adam West's portrayal of Peter's deplorably lecherous father, Jeff. If Vinnie Barbarino can resurrect his career with Pulp Fiction, why can't Batman do the same?