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She's So Lovely  

Is she really so lovely.... or is she, and the people who think she`s lovely, insane? That is a question I would like answered about the main female character in Nick Cassevettes' film, She`s So Lovely. There is really nothing very lovely, or loving, in this film, but there is much that is insane, crazy, and damaging to the souls of these people. This film was written by the late John Cassevettes, creator of such films as Woman Under the Influence, Faces, and Shadows, and, as nutty as those films are, this film possibly takes the cake.

The story involves a couple (Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn) who can best be described as very colourful and very screwed-up. The man often disappears for days at a time, for no reason, while the woman finds herself in awful situations in the meantime, such as an outing with another local man which turns into an assault and rape. Both members of this couple say the strangest things, in the strangest way. They certainly are not sane. Eventually, the man gets word about what has happened between the woman and the man who raped her, and goes on a violent rampage which results in him injuring an emergency response worker and being thrown into a mental institution for ten years. The second half of the film takes place after Penn`s release, where he finds out that the love of his life is now married to a decidedly more stable man, played by John Travolta. Travolta does not want Penn causing trouble with the marriage, and attempts to dissuade him from it. But Penn does not want to live without his one true love, and will make sure he gets what he wants.

Male possession of women is the theme which I grabbed onto here. There is all this talk about love, but the fact is that the woman is a prize which is tossed back and forth between one guy and another. This is most notable in the second half in the film, where the goal is to see who can keep the woman: Penn or Travolta. Sean Penn`s belief is that he will take this woman home, no matter what, even if her new husband does not approve. Penn feels that he is obliged to take her back, because she did, after all, promise to return to him in a few months. And even if ten years has passed, he will still return to her.

Travolta would seem like the life-saving presence, until you actually see this character in action. Listen to him when he practically boasts to Penn of how he "rescued" the woman from drugs, booze, etc. He sounds almost like someone who saved a stray animal rather than someone who fell in love. Also, he is taunting Penn for now having his girl. Of course, the woman`s opinion doesn`t matter a whole lot, because the point is that the men have to get what they want.

Of course, only a woman who is not very secure about herself would find herself in this situation, and this woman is not exactly loaded with self-esteem. She talks in a very frantic, hesitant manner. She is unable to report her own rape and assault earlier in the film, mainly because she doesn`t want to upset Penn about it. And while we don`t see any form of physical abuse between the couple, it is telling that on a number of occasions, people misconstrue their behaviour as being part of an abusive relationship, which makes you wonder what went on the rest of the time before he was sent to the funny farm. And later, when she is with her new husband, she seems almost compelled to return to Penn. It does not seem like love, but an extreme example of someone who does not want to upset her controller.

I didn`t like this nearly as much as the "real" Cassevettes films, which contained real energy, and a rawness which is smoothed out for this new version. Shadows, for example, looked just like real life (the fact it was improvised didn`t hurt), and was filmed like no other film before that time. But She`s So Lovely is basically a Hollywood version of Cassevettes, with big stars and a traditional directorial style. Actually, I don`t think that there would be any way that Cassevettes could make the films he made today, because there is too much personality, realism, etc, in them. This film, on the other hand, seems more like a respectable tribute to a master, and while She`s So Lovely is certainly a good enough view, it sure doesn`t beat the real thing.

David Macdonald

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