August 29, 1997 in Seven

Guys And Doll Sean Penn Returns With Powerful, Pulsing Performance In ‘She’s So Lovely’

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

I’m warning you right up front: “She’s So Lovely” is an odd, unwieldy movie. But I like it anyway.

Nick Cassavetes’ film (from a script by his father, the late John Cassavetes) makes some shocking U-turns - from tragic to farcical, from sentimental to sarcastic - but the thing hangs together because of terrific performances by Sean Penn and John Travolta.

Their characters are both married to Robin Wright Penn (Sean’s real-life wife and the “She” of the title).

As the film begins, she’s with Penn, but a violent outburst sends him to an institution. Fast-forward 10 years: Now, Wright Penn is married and the mother of three children with Travolta, but her first husband is about to get out of the pokey and try to reclaim her.

“She’s So Lovely’s” ads make it look like a battle between the guys for the woman, but it’s not. It’s obvious who’s going to end up with her, and that helps blunt the impact of the awkward ending - a downer masquerading as an upper.

Along the way, the movie cooks up ironic laughs by thrusting the characters into absurd situations that demonstrate how messy love can be.

The scenes mine humor from the characters’ attempts to act normal under abnormal circumstances (in the climactic confrontation, Harry Dean Stanton shouts at the gun-wielding Travolta, “We came here for dinner. What are you pulling a piece for? It’s not that kind of evening.”).

If you can picture it, “She’s So Lovely” plays like a bloodier, gutter-mouthed “Guys and Dolls,” minus the songs. And minus about half of a doll, because Wright Penn doesn’t bring enough to her role.

She’s not terrible, but she doesn’t have the personality to suggest why these two crazy, fascinating characters would obsess over her.

But the guys are tops. Crude and impatient, Travolta is an exasperated palooka who wants his wife to make a decision pronto.

He’s pulsing with emotion, and so is Penn. His sad, funny, stripped-raw performance is pitched at a manic level, but it never feels ridiculous or overdone.

Forget the title; he’s the one who’s lovely.

MEMO: “She’s So Lovely” Location: Lyons, Spokane Valley Mall Credits: Directed by Nick Cassavetes, starring Robin Wright Penn, John Travolta and Sean Penn Running time: 1:35 Rating: R

“She’s So Lovely” Location: Lyons, Spokane Valley Mall Credits: Directed by Nick Cassavetes, starring Robin Wright Penn, John Travolta and Sean Penn Running time: 1:35 Rating: R


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