1997, R, 113 min. Directed by Alan Rudolph. Starring Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 13, 1998

Afterglow is an adult love story tinged with large measures of comedy and sadness. It's also illuminated with superb performances by Nick Nolte and sight-for-sore-eyes Julie Christie, whose work was recognized this week with an Oscar nomination. The film finds writer-director Alan Rudolph returning to the smart romantic stylings that characterized such earlier films as Choose Me in 1984 and his debut feature Welcome to L.A. in 1976. As with those films, Afterglow interlaces the romantic meanderings of a cluster of people, following them as coincidence and choice govern the paths of their lives. Lucky “Fix-It” Mann (Nolte) and Phyllis (Christie) have been married for 24 years and even though the embers of their love still provide a comforting emotional warmth, a hurt they inflicted on each other years ago still casts a pall on their relationship. Lucky, a mobile handyman, has his wife's tacit approval to work on the personal plumbing of his female employers as well as that of their clogged sinks. Phyllis, a former B movie star, is haunted by a long-ago infidelity that had dire consequences on her marriage. Running in a narrative parallel to this story is the marriage of yuppie couple Jeffrey (Miller) and Marianne (Boyle). Corporate achiever Jeffrey is a cold-hearted and self-absorbed jerk who refuses to sleep with his silly and desperate wife. She, in turn, hires Lucky Mann to build a nursery in their sterile, ultra-moderne apartment. It's no surprise that, before long, the drilling commences. But then a comic twist has both Jeffrey and Marianne following their spouses to a hotel bar where they then meet and go off together. The film continues to play off the pain of the elder couple and the vacuousness of the younger in a way that's intriguingly neither wholly drama nor comedy. Sumptuously shot by Toyomichi Kurita, Afterglow is endlessly fascinating. Nolte is well-cast as the randy yet deeply sensitive older man, while Christie has a field day measuring out her rueful and sarcastic dialogue. Detracting from the goings-on are the one-dimensional performances of Boyle and Miller. As a couple, these two seem more likely to drown in the fierce emotional currents of the Manns' marriage. Miller especially shows none of the spark that made his Trainspotting appearance so electrifying and Boyle is reduced to airhead comic responses. The film itself tends to wander as it pokes around uneasily for its tone. Yet this is also, undeniably, the source of much of the film's charm. Afterglow bathes the screen with a warm amber light.

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More Alan Rudolph Films
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Kimberley Jones, Sept. 5, 2003

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Afterglow, Alan Rudolph, Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller

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