The Austin Chronicle

Twice Upon a Yesterday

Rated R, 92 min. Directed by Maria Ripoll. Starring Elizabeth Mcgovern, Neil Stuke, Charlotte Coleman, Eusebio Lazaro, Mark Strong, Gustavo Salmeron, Penélope Cruz, Douglas Henshall, Lena Headey.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 18, 1999

Two films set in London's quaintly upscale Notting Hill neighborhood within one month (the other being, of course, Notting Hill), and neither one quite succeeds like it ought to. Granted, Twice Upon a Yesterday, which might be charitably described as Sliding Doors from a guy's point of view, makes the Hill infinitely more interesting than in the recent Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant vehicle, but the neighborhood, alas, isn't the star here, Headey and Henshall are. As Sylvia and Victor, they're a pair of longtime lovers whose romance finally crashes and burns in the wake of unemployed actor Vic's sexual indiscretion; a subsequent bout of the truthies seals his fate, and before you can say, “Bad actor, no monologue,” it's six months later and he's out on his rear and moping himself silly over his ex's impending nuptials to gym-mate Dave. Debuting Spanish director Ripoll then brings in a touch of magical realism in the form of a magical umbrella and a pair of quixotic, pre-dawn trash men, who literally rescue Vic from the gutter and offer him one more chance to get it right. Awaking in his bed the next day, he discovers that, yes indeed, he's back in the love loop with Sylvia. This time, he firmly insists there's no affair, promptly breaks it off with the other woman, and refashions himself into the perfect boyfriend, flowers and all. All's fair in love, war, and Cervantes, though, and try though he might, Vic can't circumnavigate fate. Dave once again shows up (courtesy of a dinner engagement with Sylvia's best friend, Four Weddings and a Funeral's Coleman), but this time it's Sylvia who initiates the behind-the-scenes action. Yet another breakup ensues, which this time leads to Vic's meeting Spanish expat Louise (Cruz), an elfin novelist with a taste for struggling actors. On this cosmic highway Vic finds himself the unemployed thesp only briefly. As goes his love life, so goes his life in general, apparently. Ripoll has fused the elements of classic romantic comedy with the more outré dreamscapes of magical realism, creating a hybrid beast that never quite seems to know where it wants to go. Charming in its own way, Twice Upon a Yesterday nonetheless seems a bit crowded, both with observations on the machinations of love and odd subplots (what's going on with Vic's loony friend Freddy, anyway?). Headey and Henshall are both fine in their roles, with the former milking the emotional heifer from both ends while the latter comes off as sort of a low-rent Kenneth Branagh (he not only looks like Branagh, but sounds a bit like him as well). In the end, Ripoll's message seems to be that when it comes to love, somebody's bound to get slammed no matter how many chances to get it right they may have. Not exactly earth-shattering news, that, but as a pleasant summer diversion not involving laser cannons or Will Smith, you could do worse.

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