The Austin Chronicle

Still Breathing

Rated PG-13, 109 min. Directed by James F. Robinson. Starring Brendan Fraser, Joanna Going, Celeste Holm, Ann Magnuson, Lou Rawls, Angus Macfadyen, Toby Huss, Paolo Seganti, Michael McKean, Junior Brown.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., May 1, 1998

Fletcher McBracken (Fraser) is a sweet, dreamy young man who suffers the same curse that his father and his father's father suffered. Each has been fated to envision the woman of his dreams, and then set off to find and win her. Fletcher spends his spare time cutting up magazine pictures and gluing a collage of features into some semblance of his destined love. The wall in his house is covered with them. It's a desultory pastime, though, one in which Fletcher only halfheartedly believes, so the collages are never quite right. But his grandmother, Ida (Holm) who was herself a chosen one, helps him persevere until one night his destiny is revealed in a vision and he can assemble truer pictures. Armed with his surreal collages, Fletcher sets off in search of his beloved, a quest which takes him to Los Angeles (by way of China, sort of). That his true love is a jaded, cynical beauty of the walking-wounded variety puts the whole crusade into jeopardy. Roz Willoughby (Going) has turned the tables on life as she has experienced it. Her vocation of conning men out of their money is not stealing, but a form of divine retribution. A perfect career choice, she can use her art expertise, not to mention her considerable charms, and never risk the thing she fears most -- emotional entanglement. Going is perfect as the tightly reined Roz. Her whole being is closed and off-limits, her face a lovely, impenetrable mask. Unfortunately, it stays that way. Going never softens, her eyes stay hard and guarded. The mask changes expression and speaks the right words, but it is a mask all the same and there is no reflection of romance in it. On the other hand, Fraser is positively rubber-faced. He confuses dreaminess with bewilderment, substituting half-witted grins for beatific contentment. There is too little chemistry between Roz and Fletcher and without more, the alchemy is evanescent. Only Celeste Holm fits the picture. Her Ida is aglow with a warm, eccentric magic -- the kind that smells good and fills you with an abrupt ease. The notion of Still Breathing is sweet and lovely, and possesses moments of breathtaking beauty -- Fletcher turning a projector on Roz, using her skin as a sensuous, reflective screen; a miniature cairn constructed in the palm of a hand; Ida playing an easy, affectionate Chopin on her tuba. Adding to the charm is a marvelous and evocative soundtrack that completes rather than overwhelms the images. The picture has the power to enchant, it just can't sustain the spell. Still Breathing is not without wonder, but when you're trying to weave magic, the incantation has to be exactly right. (See related story in this week's “Screens” section.)

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