Afterglow [1997]

Right from the start there's a wink in Alan Rudolph's dry comedy of sad characters. This film, touted for its Oscar-nominated performance by Julie Christie, is a solid entry for fans of Rudolph's Choose Me and Love at Large. First we meet the amorous Mr. Fix-it, aptly named Lucky Mann (Nick Nolte). Lucky is a big teddy bear who finds joy in construction and womanizing. Nearly every sentence is a smooth entendre or a typical Rudolph witticism. This arrangement seems to be fine with his longtime wife Phyllis (Christie), an ex-B-movie actress who acts as if much of her life is still a bad movie. Lucky's latest client is a young housewife (Lara Flynn Boyle) who also has a muddle of a marriage: Marianne swoons for Lucky's attention, because her husband, Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller), has energy for his high-rise business career but little else. Soon Jeffrey espies sad and stunning Phyllis and is on the prowl, unaware that she is Lucky's wife. Many filmmakers have made statements about the rarity of monogamy but Rudolph is one of the few who finds so much strength in fooling around. He has deep, long answers to why his characters are the way there are, and this leads to scenes that actors relish, even if they don't ring true. Certainly Christie has not had a part this juicy in years, and Nolte, warm and energetic, simply shines. Miller, usually the young ruffian in films such as Trainspotting, gives an intriguing slant to a stuffed shirt. Rudolph has never reached the complexity nor the mastery of his mentor Robert Altman, but he has created his own niche: the comedy of characters usually found in urban dramas. There are laughs in this movie that you simply won't find in the typical Hollywood comedy. Like Altman, he proves that being an independent voice is not about the methods of filmmaking, it's about talent. --Doug Thomas

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