Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

The Accidental Tourist Film Review

The_accidental_touristFor the duo post series of ours, the blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I are back to close out April with another movie title that began its life between a book cover. I’ll save my usual, “Where has the year gone?” spiel. Suspect there’s no real answer to that. Perhaps it’s a good thing we’re centering on a Pulitzer finalist from 1985. Won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction the same year, in fact, and the Ambassador Book Award for Fiction the next.

Written by novelist, short story writer, and literary critic Anne TylerThe Accidental Tourist an examination of life’s extraordinary and mundane that somehow, whether we want it to or not, knock us down or bring us up. Why was it a 2015 selection of mine? Wondered about that, too. Possibly, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s acclaimed screen adaptation that sucked (suckered?) me back in. Who the Hell knows anymore.

As usual, my colleague Rachel will scrutinize said novel that was the film’s source material. Its 1988 translation into an odd romantic drama I’ll evaluate. The wordy one’s book review can be found here:

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

A brief synopsis of the film: As a Baltimore writer of travel guides for reluctant business travelers, Macon Leary is a study of how best to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty. For junkets and in life. His practiced and careful ways born of tragedy — the murder of his twelve-year-old son. It’s also disintegrated his marriage in the aftermath.

As a result, left alone to his own persnickety devices, he’s managed to break a leg. With an unmanageable Corgi wreaking havoc on family and neighbors, to boot. Ever reluctant, Macon turns to Muriel Pritchett for help. An animal hospital employee, and part-time dog trainer with a sickly son, he’ll hire to put his dog (and unknowingly himself) through much-needed reconditioning.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]

“While armchair travelers dream of going places, traveling armchairs dream of staying put.”

Pretty sure I’m guilty of picking my favorite books and films for this series. Finding comfort in redux. Only occasionally challenging myself with anything new because…well, why stray from what’s worked. A number of them some label as “genre” fare. The implied criticism it’s merely “pop entertainment.” Not really worthy of “serious” consideration. Yes and no. Luckily, I’m confronted by friends (mostly women, as my wife notes) to open up to more.


Guess why I returned to this for only the second time ever, and my first with the novel1.

Lawrence Kasdan is known for a number of cinematic accomplishments in a stalwart career. Helped to craft, with Leigh Brackett, the best screenplay of the Star Wars series, which represented quite a start to it. The writer-director-producer having his talented fingers in some of the biggest, most entertaining films during the last decades of the 20th Century. No mean feat. So much so, suspect people tend to forget what he achieved with The Accidental Tourist.

Lawrence-KasdanA simple story of love and loss, mourning and withdrawal (and how one reverses that flow) disguised as an eccentric, but affecting dramedy. Like the opening image of the film, “…only what fits in a carry-on bag”, the important and the necessary, brought onboard. Leaving Luke’s light-saber, Indiana Jones’ whip, and certainly any firearms, by the wayside as a must. Solely whatever essence we bring need apply, and even that woefully inadequate at times.

Macon’s plight throughout symbolized in the film by his lone suitcase and vicariously his pet Edward. The latter happens to be his late son Ethan’s dog, and why he can’t give up on him.

A quiet, thoughtful film that played out across the lives of three people who’ve picked up the pieces of what life (in all her wisdom) dealt them. Mainly through the somnambulist existence of Macon Leary (in a wonderful portrayal by William Hurt) who’s withdrawn to a safe, routine lifestyle, and those around him, following the death of his son. The Leary men of his family no bargain to begin with2. No wonder he’s little comfort to his spouse doubly hurt as a result of their loss.

The predictable Macon strangely intuitive for his readers and others, while totally inept to his own needs.

“It’s not by chance you write books telling people how to make trips without a jolt so they can travel to wonderful, exotic places and never be touched by them. Never feel they’ve left home. That traveling armchair isn’t just your logo. It’s you.”

tourist2Intentional or not, perhaps it was a bit of stunt casting having the alluring Kathleen Turner as Macon’s wife. Anne Tyler surely did not describe Sarah in so many words in her novel as someone quite like her. Kasdan reunited the same pair that once burnt up the screen in his 1981 directorial debut, Body Heat3. Yet, in what could have been the thankless role of the film, she brought a touching clarity at the heart of her husband’s problem.

Both powerless to help each other through the demise of who the two had in common. Their son. Thus, Sarah could only save herself. Turner’s scant minutes of screen time nonetheless weighty. “But when we lost him, I needed you. I needed you to comfort me. I needed you to be the kind of person you’ve never been. And that not even fair to have of you.” Why her line in the last act, “You could have taken steps, for once!”, drew blood as well as Macon’s realization.

All part of a faithful adaptation to an insightful work — a novel that honestly frustrated almost as much as it enchanted. Pulled you through, as with the main character, on a passage. Like it or not. Roger Ebert crystalized it back when he wrote in his meditative review, “…the whole movie is a journey toward a smile at the end.” Kasdan’s film, like Tyler’s book, left the viewer joyously aching. Conceiving such a terrible loss, as well as an opportunity, for the life of you, you’re about to miss.

No doubt, depending on someone like the unique Muriel Pritchett (an Oscar-winning Geena Davis embodying her thoroughly) to gel the tale, and trio, together on paper, and up on the screen.

the accidental tourist - macon & muriel

“Why did you go without me? When are you going to change?”

The film’s dialogue summed up the relationships we gather, why they don’t work, and most importantly, when they do in real life. Moreover on film, it’s why this still stands up. The stinging line, “Don’t be lulled by a false sense of security”, pictured Macon’s doldrums perfectly. A powerful tête-à-tête, among a number of memorable lines. Like Muriel’s fake nails and outfits, the interchanges noticeable in that odd way some books and movies imprint themselves on viewers.

Even Macon’s, “To step out of the Leary groove, and stay out.”, struck a cord…made me realize why I’d suggested the film.

The filmmaker and a fine cast of supporting actors (Ed Begley, Jr., Amy Wright, David Ogden Stiers, Bill Pullman, not to mention a scene-stealing Welsh Corgi) performed a sublime balancing act in the small production. Too much drama, melancholy, or comedic quirk could have derailed the result. Luckily, Kasdan and his co-scriptwriter Frank Galati took the best parts of Tyler’s narrative and short-handed them4 into momentous visuals (many in flashback) that spoke volumes5.

“I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.”

That’s The Accidental Tourist secret, me thinks. Like why we head back to what’s safe on holidays, if irritating, about family. The Oscar-nominated film one of the best that year. The adaptation, like the novel, works well when we recognize the familial in it. The times we occasionally stumble upon with others — be it friends, acquaintances, or…dare I say…in-laws — noticing they’re even more screwed up as a clan than us. Blithely failing to imagine what you and your ilk must look like to them.

the accidental tourist

Of course, the women in our lives way ahead of us men in that realization.

“In travel, as in most of life, less is invariably more. And most importantly, never take along anything on your journey so valuable or dear that it’s loss would devastate you.”

Parallel Post Series

  1. Giving credit where it’s due, my series partner Rachel is the key driver in this book-film review effort. 
  2. The author nailed women’s far better understanding (and patience) of the opposite sex than men with theirs. 
  3. In both cases, the couple played by Kathleen Turner and William Hurt don’t end up together by the finale. The former better off in Body Heat, the latter in The Accidental Tourist
  4. Only doing both the novel and movie does Muriel’s reference in Paris of her sister and “The General” make any sense. 
  5.  The, “I’ll take the turkey.”, scene and Muriel’s response at Macon’s explanation of his son’s loss and why he can’t come to dinner surely the most noble acts of trust and love I’ve seen of late. 

16 Responses to “The Accidental Tourist Film Review”

  1. Cavershamragu

    I don’t care how much I loved a woman, i would not have had that Turkey (let alone second helpings). Great review Mike – I saw this when ti came out and remain a fan event after (gulp) a quarter of a century. It is surprisingly faithful as an adaptation, but the book is noticeably tougher on the Leary clan I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • le0pard13

      Ha! I understand, though. The line in novel where the Leary men are talking over the slow-cooked bird had me laughing out loud. Glad to hear you’re a fan of this, Sergio. And yes, the novel is noticeably tougher on the Leary men. Thank you so much, my friend. 🙂


  2. Cindy Bruchman

    I loved this book and the film. Geena was great, wasn’t she? They all were. Lovely review, Michael. “Not how much you love them but who you are when you are with them.” Profound!

    Liked by 1 person

    • le0pard13

      Oh, yes. Geena was fantastic in this role. Every time she showed up onscreen, I was jazzed. We both enjoyed the novel and the film, I see. Good to hear. Thank you as always, Cindy. I know you’ll be taking a break, working on your second novel, so your presence will be much missed here. Good luck! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ruth

    I still need to see this! I didn’t know Turner & Hurt reunited here, of course their first film together is quite hard to forget 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • le0pard13

      Both Hurt and Turner are great together onscreen — they just don’t stay together it seems. 😉 Hope you get to see this soon, Ruth. Thank you so much. 🙂


    • le0pard13

      When he was starting out, I wasn’t a big fan of William Hurt. This one likely the first where I really began to warm up to this work. Been a fan ever since. As always, thank you very much, Mark. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rachel

    Really enjoyed reading your review of this film. I’m embarrassed to admit, after this fine and loving review, that I lost interest in the film about halfway through and didn’t even realize I had started doing other things on my computer. I know you saw in my review that I wasn’t a huge fan of the book and the adaptation, while wonderfully faithful, lost a lot of the playfulness that was gorgeously intertwined with the more serious nature of the story. That playfulness was my favorite part so the movie sort of lost me. Additionally, I was really hoping Hurt and Davis (two actors I greatly admire) would change my mind about Macon and Muriel but they did not. I didn’t buy them together in the book and I didn’t buy them together in the film. I am clearly not the intended audience. 🙂

    I am interested to see how many people have commented (here there and everywhere on the internets) negatively on the Leary men. I’m not entirely sure I see how they are any worse than any other random selection of quirky family members. Have you noticed this and what did you think of them?

    I feel like this is my Persuasion. 😉

    Also, I really can’t take the credit which is doled out to me under foot note 1!!! This project of ours wouldn’t even exist without you!!! Credit where credit is due certainly but there’s no way I deserve more than you. Go team!

    Liked by 1 person

    • le0pard13

      Y’know, I had a feeling, before reading your review, you might not like this novel/film combo. Maybe you and my wife are rubbing off on me .Giving moi some of your foresight. The Leary men were my center of frustration with the novel. Quirky, yes, but I know I’d find them difficult to live with. Of course, I’ve known a few of them in real life so I also know there are those patient and understanding few who actually stay with them. By their side, helping sort out things. So I could buy into them in both novel and film. Even if I never could for any real length of time.

      Of course, given her patience and understanding, my wife keeps me in order. Perhaps, I am that sort of person (and don’t realize it). 😉

      Thank you, Rachel. Go team, indeed! 🙂



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