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Dustin Putman

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Mascara (1999)
3 Stars

Directed by Linda Kandel
Cast: Ione Skye, Lumi Cavazos, Amanda de Cadenet, Steve Jones, Steve Schub, Tara Subkoff, Corey Page, Karen Black.
1999 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sex, nudity, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 20, 1999.

Three 30-year-old friends' search for their rightful place in life is the subject of director Linda Kandel's independent drama, "Mascara," an intelligently-written, if somewhat familiar, right-of-passage film. Movies about a group of young women and their exploits concerning love, career, and identity are a dime a dozen, and even if "Mascara" isn't one of the very best of the genre, it is also far from one of the worst, due to the apt way in which the characters are dealt with and developed.

Moving back and forth between the three women's plights, the film begins with a stylishly-edited sequence in which one of them, Laura (Lumi Cavazos), is about to get married to her beau, Donnie (Steve Schub). Laura is apprehensive and nervous, as many brides-to-be understandably are, but seven months later, we discover that Donnie has begun to cheat on her, and being the resolute woman that she is, Laura packs up and leaves him, moving back in with her possessive parents. Meanwhile, Jennifer (Amanda de Cadenet) is having troubles of her own. It seems that when her own husband was caught having a one-time affair, she let it slide but found herself emotionally dead inside. Together, they have a sweet, young daughter, but Jennifer begins to stray down a promiscuous path of her own, desperately attempting to find happiness with a collection of one-night-stands and alcohol. And Rebecca (Ione Skye), who moves from one job to the next, preferring to not stay at one place too long, has picked up with Nick (Steve Jones), an older man with two children: Daphne (Tara Subkoff), a slutty teenager whom Nick seems just a tad too infatuated with, and Andrew (Corey Page), a college student who is rarely at home and, thus, when Rebecca begins a relationship with him as well, she doesn't know he is Nick's son.

The title, "Mascara," I think, has less to do with the make-up than as a metaphor for the three women's struggles for independence and satisfaction. All three of the central characters are vividly drawn and interesting people. Laura may seem the most grounded at first, but then we discover that her job as a psychotherapist is overshadowed by a scene when we find she has a therapist of her own. As far as her husband Donnie goes, she still loves him, but it is clear that he is not a responsible man, as he casually has affairs and doesn't show any sympathy for Laura. Rebecca, on the other hand, finds her rapid change of jobs a nice change of pace, even though she later discovers after an acting audition that she unknowingly has a great deal of talent. Slowly, she starts to suspect that something other than fatherly love is going on between Nick and his daughter, and quickly drops him when things get a little too uncomfortable. Poor Jennifer has the most problems, as she finds it difficult to show any feeling for anyone. Even though Ken had one affair, he is honestly regretful of his misstep and is otherwise faithful, unlike Donnie. Jennifer loves her daughter, no doubt about that, but her own interior problems need to be worked out, and so she leaves them. It doesn't take long to see that she is headed for further conflicts.

Ione Skye was such a startlingly bright presence in 1989's "Say Anything," but since then hasn't had much success, aside from her turn in 1992's indie, "Gas, Food Lodging." Skye returns with a reckoning here, as her character of Rebecca also has to deal with the discovery from her aunt (Karen Black) that her father is not dead, like she had been told, but merely wanted nothing to do with her when he found out her mother was pregnant. In one of the best scenes in the film, Rebecca pays a visit to her dad, who works as an auto mechanic. He takes her for a test drive in a used car, but she decides not to reveal her identity. Skye is so notably assured and winning here that it is unfortunate this film was released earlier this summer from Phaedra Cinema, but through ill-fated circumstances, was not reviewed in any of the NY newspapers and therefore opened and closed with the blink of an eye. Be sure to catch the film when it comes to video probably later this year.

Lumi Cavazos, as Laura, appeared in 1993's acclaimed foreign film, "Like Water for Chocolate," which remains unseen by me, but after seeing her here, I might just have a reason to take a look at that earlier picture. Cavazos is luminous and is even a little funny when dealing with her character's eccentricities (when she goes out on a date and lights a cigarette but simply holds it in her hand, she tells him, "I don't smoke").

Amanda de Cadenet decidedly has the most difficult role, and goes through the most changes, but is up to the challenge, believably displaying a wide range of emotions as a woman who doesn't feel wanted by anyway, most of all her husband, despite his constant apologizing for what he once did. One late sequence, however, in which Jennifer goes home with the wrong man, who then violently rapes her, felt out-of-place and nothing comes of the scene afterwards. Its purpose, of course, was to be an incident that finally knocks some sense into her concerning her impending path of destruction, but the scene still could have been more well-handled.

There actually aren't that many actual criticisms I can give the film, other than to say that this sort of story has been overdone and the film world wasn't exactly crying out for another one. I also could have done without the ending, which is just a little too neat and tidy for my taste, but that at least put me in a better mood than if it had ended on a downbeat note. Still, these minor downfalls don't detract away from my overall feelings on "Mascara," which is that it is a rare mature film about free-thinking adults, and one that treats its characters with an open mind and a big heart.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman