2015, NR, 90 min. Directed by Juan Feldman. Starring Marcia Gay Harden, Óscar Jaenada, Jenna Ortega, Ron Canada, Jackie Torres.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 21, 2015
Remember the lovely 1950 British comedy/drama Last Holiday, in which a sad and lonely salesman (a sublime Alec Guinness) spends his life’s savings to stay at an upscale seaside resort on the assumption he has only a few weeks to live? (Forget the schmaltzy 2006 Queen Latifah remake.) In many ways, the equally lovely After Words echoes the same quiet desperation of someone at the end of her rope. Here, the sad and lonely Jane (Harden), a middle-aged librarian living an anonymous existence in Los Angeles with only a cat for company, decides to travel to Costa Rica after losing her job to a depressed economy and the Internet. But this is not the traditional vacation getaway to an exotic locale. The two prescription bottles she packs with her belongings suggest Jane is looking for a more permanent version of rest and relaxation on this trip. When she hires the handsome Juan (Jaenada), a smooth-talking but good-hearted tour guide and sometimes gigolo, to show her around his beautiful Central American country, however, you wonder whether she’ll follow through with this planned suicide mission. Or will Jane finally get her groove?
Predictable but never coy about it, After Words speaks to the fateful connection that sometimes occurs between two people under the most improbable circumstances. Sure, the two principals are stock characters you’ve seen plenty of times before, but both Harden and Jaenada imbue them with a little something extra, something that holds your attention even though you know exactly how everything will end from the moment these two people meet. Even Jane’s blossoming transformation from mousy spinster with hunched posture to attractive, mature woman open to the possibility of intimacy is subtly handled – she becomes a delicate jungle orchid nurtured by the respectfulness of a sincere man who wants to better himself. Who needs the slightly annoying literary quotations bookending the film when this tender relationship communicates its essence? It’s in this respect that After Words needs no words at all.