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Movie Reviews

White Palace  

White Palace is a 1990 film starring James Spader and Susan Sarandon which can only be described as a very unusual romance. First off, the storyline is rather unusual, in a cinematic world where many old men snag young women without many second thoughts by the audience, in that the romance is between a young man and an older woman. As well, the two people are from completely opposite sides of the sociol-economic spectrum; he is a rich Jewish office-worker living in a sterile high-end apartment, while she is a waitress, working at a diner, living in the far less glamourous part of town.

Of course, as with any other romances, the viewer has to take a bit of a leap of faith in order to accept everything. Here, Spader confronts Sarandon at the White Palace (the diner where she works) due to a few missing hamburgers from an order sent out to a bachelor party he was attending. This first meeting is unfruitful, naturally, but -- surprise! -- they bump into each other at a bar, while in the process of drowning their sorrows in liquor. He has never gotten over the death of his childhood sweetheart turned wife, while she has never gotten over the death of her son. These are unhappy and wounded people who need each other for comfort, although that is not something they are ready for just yet.
After the inevitable one-night-stand, Spader becomes fascinated with this woman, and the two of them begin a relationship, but first they have to get over their fears. Spader feels embarrassed because he's not dating some clean-cut Jewish girl, and so goes out of his way to avoid any contact between her and his social circle. Sarandon is filled with hurt and self-pity, and seemingly unable to believe that people can accept her for who she is. And just as how they get together is fairly arbitrary, the happy ending is even more unlikely.

Now that the plot summary is out of the way, let's turn to the real reason that I have a particular liking for this movie, which is that Susan Sarandon is a goddess. The whole purpose of this movie is to show a relationship between a man in his late 20's and a woman in her early 40's, and, believe me, if I, a 24 year old, were to bump into a woman of Susan Sarandon's caliber, I would most likely succumb willingly to her charms. Spader however, seems to be somewhat immune, until.....ummm, until it's too late. That is if you consider being suddenly revived from slumber by a spectacular blow job from Susan an example of "it's too late".
Yes, that's true. While most movies shy away from the overtly and honestly erotic, unless they are soft-core movies, or something similarly lurid (like a horror or action movie), White Palace, which in all respects is a gentle little romance, contains a sex scene which will startle a few people. Put it this way: after Sarandon orally arouses Spader, she gets on top and gives a fairly ecstatic physical and verbal display. Since I have a secret liking for vivid displays of erotic passion on-screen, all I can say about this scene is -- beautiful!

What is interesting is the age of the participant: Sarandon would have been in her early 40's, and it seems to be rare for an actress of that age to show off her sex appeal. Why? I don't know; maybe it's because everybody thinks that only 20 year olds have sex?!? Why??? Susan Sarandon is a woman, just like any other woman. She has sexual responses and feelings and what have you, so why wouldn't she be permitted to display them?? When I first saw this movie, I was at a somewhat impressionable age, and I certainly wasn't thinking of Sarandon's age at the time, but at the fact that she was just so damn sexy; this was not a chaste little snuggle, but a raunchy event of lovemaking. The fact that Sarandon is actually a talent, and not some supermodel hired only for her sex appeal, only makes her even more attractive to me. I think this was the first Sarandon movie I saw, and this probably has coloured my impression of her ever after in other movies, for better or worse. At any rate, she is quite good in most any movie that she's in, and it doesn't have to be a sexy role either.
The sex scene may seem out of place to some, but it works, in a way, because it shows us that she is a woman with many sides. She is not a bimbo, or sleazy, but a complicated person - she is wounded and lonely. In this respect, White Palace is really an adult movie, in that it shows us a woman who is more than just a bundle of extreme sexuality, but someone who has many different sides. Much of that effect is possible due -- of course! -- to Susan Sarandon's performance. She is able to portray the reality of her character more convincingly, to be quite honest, than the other actors can in theirs. The other actors are competent, and James Spader is interesting, if - for some reason -- I find him to be somewhat of a strange man, but Sarandon is the queen of the film, and that's not just because she's part of one of the greatest sex scenes known to mankind (okay, one of the greatest sex scenes known to me....).

Most everything about her performance hits the right buttons. During the one-night-stand, there's something about the look in her eyes, in her face, which screams out a mixture of fear and hope that maybe - maybe - this is the guy who will actually stick around. She tries to, for a while, act somewhat nonchalant about the whole thing, but it soon becomes clear that she is a lonely person, afraid of getting hurt. Another good sequence is at the party, the lone WASP middle-to-lower class girl amongst rich Jews, unable to fit in, not really because of the fact that she is everything they aren't, but becuase she makes a big self-conscious display of that fact. She is so insecure that she takes it out on a number of individuals. She doesn't feel important or deserving enough to be at such a party, even when, before, she was after Spader for not allowing her to see his family and friends. Just as Spader has to learn to actually treat this woman right, she has to learn to treat herself right as well. In essence, Sarandon makes her character real, and that is the most important reason to see White Palace.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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