August 9, 1996 in Seven

‘Hamptons’ Rich In Comedy, Humanity

Jay Carr The Boston Globe
 

“Last Summer in the Hamptons” is not only Henry Jaglom’s best film, it’s his best film by such a margin that all the others seem preliminary stops on the way to it.

I’ve run hot and cold on Jaglom’s work. At their worst (“Venice, Venice”), the movies seem tiresomely self-indulgent. At their best (“Happy New Year,” “Babyfever,” “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?”), they seem serendipitous.

Although “Last Summer in the Hamptons” is about a summer house full of theater people who often seem to be reflexively playing to an audience, their snatches of conversation seem mostly spontaneous and revelatory - overheard, not declaimed. In the closing credits, Jaglom genuflects to Renoir, Joyce and Chekhov. What’s remarkable is that they actually seem to hover over the film like guardian angels.

Another spirit permeates it, too. It’s that of Viveca Lindfors. In a piece of inspired casting, she plays the theatrical family’s matriarch, who bought the place years ago with what she airily refers to as Hollywood money. It’s been years since she has worked in Hollywood; she returned to the stage and later became a famous teacher.

Jaglom, who wrote the script with his wife, actress Victoria Foyt, deftly interweaves Lindfors’ bio and that of the character she’s playing. It’s fun to watch Lindfors watching clips of her own actual Hollywood films and commenting. And the fact that her character now must sell the house because she no longer can afford to keep it makes “Hamptons” echo Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard.”

Lindfors’ final bow in the movie, concluding the show her students present each summer, became the real thing. Shortly after filming was completed, Lindfors died on tour performing Strindberg in her native Sweden. A better swan song no actress could ask. She must have been aware of the way the film taps into Jean Renoir’s country-weekend classic, “The Rules of the Game.”

What makes “Last Summer in the Hamptons” so satisfying, however, is not that it echoes masterpieces (even if it finally does not match their stature), but that it’s permeated with the same kind of generosity. Like Chekhov’s and Renoir’s characters, these are silly people, but the human comedy in which their drives and needs enmesh them is glorious.

Nor do the resonances end there. The film’s promising young playwright - on whose new script everyone has designs - represents another piece of imaginative casting. Real-life playwright Jon Robin Baitz makes an acting debut that’s affecting and assured as his wary intelligence and knowledge of his family’s tricks keep him a step ahead of them. He’s most touching in his tenderness toward the unhappy sister incestuously attracted to him, Melissa Leo. His vain, insecure actor uncle, played by Ron Rifkin, is funniest when he tries to sound as if he’s got a lock on one of the roles and instead seems more shaky than ever. And Nick Gregory is amusing as a good-looking stud trying to hustle his way into the cast.

Then there’s Andre Gregory, as a skirt-chasing director who also happens to be the playwright’s father, bringing to the table a network of associations from his radiant “Vanya on 42nd Street.” Brooke Smith, that film’s haunting Sonia, amusingly turns up as an actress throwing herself into exercises involving the imitation of animals.

“Hamptons” regenerates the vulnerabilities, insecurities and transparent defenses of actors that were so heart-piercing a part of the mix in “Vanya.” The rare ability of “Hamptons” to make an audience feel it’s inside a community of actors is bolstered by the presence of Roddy McDowall and Roscoe Lee Browne as old colleagues of Lindfors’ character.

“Last Summer in the Hamptons” isn’t perfect; it leaves a few of the characters dramatically stranded as it zeroes in on the ones it considers most important. But it’s miles richer than the great majority of what’s out there, and some of its convergences are wonderful. The humane comedy in “Last Summer in the Hamptons” is easy to love.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Last Summer In The Hamptons” Locations: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: directed by Henry Jaglom; starring Victoria Foyt, Viveca Lindfors, Jon Robin Baitz, Savannah Boucher, Roscoe Lee Browne, Andre Gregory, Roddy McDowall and Martha Plimpton. Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG

This sidebar appeared with the story: “Last Summer In The Hamptons” Locations: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: directed by Henry Jaglom; starring Victoria Foyt, Viveca Lindfors, Jon Robin Baitz, Savannah Boucher, Roscoe Lee Browne, Andre Gregory, Roddy McDowall and Martha Plimpton. Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email