For 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 Tyler, The 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:
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.
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.
A 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.”
Intentional 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.
“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.
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
- Apollo 13
- Brokeback Mountain
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- – 2014 posts
- – 2013 posts
- – 2012 posts
- – 2011 posts
- – 2010 posts
- Giving credit where it’s due, my series partner Rachel is the key driver in this book-film review effort. ↩
- The author nailed women’s far better understanding (and patience) of the opposite sex than men with theirs. ↩
- 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. ↩
- Only doing both the novel and movie does Muriel’s reference in Paris of her sister and “The General” make any sense. ↩
- 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. ↩