Music From Another Room (1998)
Directed by Charlie Peters
Cast: Jude Law, Gretchen Mol, Jennifer Tilly, Brenda Blethyn, Jon Tenney, Martha Plimpton, Jeremy Piven, Jane Adams, Vincent Laresca.
1998 104 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 30, 1998.
"Music From Another Room," a drama written and directed by Charlie Peters, assembled an astonishing cast of gifted actors and then, alas, chose to do very little with them.
The prologue introduces us to Danny, a young boy visiting his father's friends for Thanksgiving, who helps Grace Swan (Brenda Blethyn), the mother of the household, give birth after she suddenly goes into labor. The baby is named Anna, and once she is born, Danny, all of five years old, takes one look at her and pronounces that he is going to marry her. Switch forward 25 years, Danny (Jude Law) returns to his home after being away in London for his childhood, only to meet up with the Swan family once again. Anna (Gretchen Mol), now a beautiful, but uptight young woman, is engaged to marry Eric (Jon Tenney), and she pretty much spends her time taking care of her family, particularly Grace, who is now very ill, and her older sister, Nina (Jennifer Tilly), who is blind and apprehensive about going outside. To get close to the family again, Danny agrees to read the novel, Anna Karenina, to Nina for her, all the while trying to win Anna's heart, even though she believes it isn't fate that once again brought them together.
"Music From Another Room," had such a brief run in theaters that if you blinked, you missed it, and I can somewhat understand why it was snubbed by its studio, Orion. It is an extremely bland romance between two characters who aren't the least bit interesting, and whom have no notably good scenes together. Luckily, almost all of the supporting characters are appealing, which really does lead you to wonder why the romance had not been scrapped and the rest of the characters be the focus. Nina, by far, is the most complex character, and is given the most delicate, sweet subplot, as a blind woman who doesn't like to get close to people she doesn't know, until one night she does meet her soul mate, a devoted, kind man named Jesus (Vincent Laresca). Jennifer Tilly is an effervescent as always here, and maybe even a little bit more, because, for once, she was not playing a dense, flighty bimbo, but a more fully-realized person. Martha Plimpton is also a standout, and given precious little screentime, as Karen, another one of Anna's sisters, who is a feminist involved in an amateur acting troupe called, "Actors Without Dicks." Finally, Jane Adams, currently starring in Todd Solondz's art-house hit, "Happiness," made an impact as Irene, the wife of the Swan family's son (Jeremy Piven), who is constantly going to therapy.
What do all of these fascinating supporting characters tell us? Well, it tells us that director Peters must have been on autopilot not to discover what a potentially good film he had, only to ruin it with the central storyline, which just clangs of sappiness and cliches. Both Jude Law and Gretchen Mol are not bad actors, and it is not their faults that their roles were inadequately written.
What ultimately saves, "Music From Another Room," from being a total washout, aside from the supporting players, were several very nice scenes, many of which came at the end. One truthful moment that might, perhaps, be the best scene that I have ever seen Tilly in, has her character of Nina telling Anna, the sister she has always heavily relied on, that she doesn't need her anymore.
What makes, "Music From Another Room," so frustrating is how, with its impressive cast, a worthwhile film could have very, very easily been made. All that the director would had to have done was to let the classy actors show their stuff, instead of placing them in such a lame story. To me, this is the worst thing that can be done by a director, especially with all of the promise it clearly holds. In fact, it's nearly downright criminal.
©1998 by Dustin Putman