Dir: Stanley Tucci. US/Belgium/Holland. 2008. 85mins.
The second of a planned trilogy of English-language remakes of films by the murdered Dutch provocateur Theo van Gogh, Stanley Tucci's Blind Date, about a man and woman who stage elaborate games in order to conceal the pain of a horrifying loss, is a fitfully interesting stylistic failure.
Tucci never surmounts the primary obstacle that his reconsideration of the Dutch filmmaker's 1996 film generally feels far more theatrical than cinematic. Tucci wrote the screenplay with David Schechter, who also worked on Steve Buscemi's van Gogh remake Interview. That film marked a more successful translation of the material to an American idiom. Shot entirely on Belgian soundstages, Blind Date appears closer to old French boulevard farce, from the repeated use of iris shots to the choices of music and the very anti-naturalistic setting.
Premiering in the non-competitive Spectrum section at Sundance, the movie marks a change of pace from the director's previous films like Big Night or Joe Gould's Secrets. Interview also premiered in Spectrum last year. Sony Classics acquired the title, and it made less than $450,000 US. That kind of limited US play appears the same fate of this title. Internationally, the movie is probably restricted to the festival circuit. The movie's plot also recalls the 1994 Sundance movie Nina Takes a Lover.
Don (Tucci) and Janna (Clarkson) are bound by an inconsolable grief, devastated by the loss of their young daughter. In an attempt to bridge their loss and rebuild their marriage, they stage elaborate games of pretend and character impersonation by constructing 'blind dates,' arranged through personal ads in the newspaper. The scenarios they envision, a blind man looking for a seeing partner, a woman seeking a qualified dance partner, end up smothering the material emotionally. The filmmakers' questionable decision to have the dead daughter narrate the film ruptures the storytelling by offering too much, too soon.
Clarkson is part of the regular ensemble of Tucci and his frequent partner Campbell Scott. Tucci apparently intended only to direct the film, but the actor he wanted proved unavailable. In a strange way the material is hurt by the familiarity of the two leads. Their pairing helps establish a sense of a shared past, but it also denies a necessary sense of the shock or the surprise of the new. Despite the set up, too much of Blind Date feels safe, even embalmed of any excitement or great revelation. In the role playing moments, the movie needs greater conflict or more a sense of danger or excitement between the two to produce a direct or unmediated confrontation.
Tucci tries to break up the rhythm with the camera effects, the iris shots that close in on the various newspaper ads to set the scenario. The basic location, a bar or a night club or a theater hall, never really changes. Even at 85 minutes, the movie feels monotonous that the claustrophobic locations never ameliorate. Perhaps because he's working in adopted material, Tucci never finds the right tone. The mood shifts from the jovial and jocular to the incriminating quickly, but the emotions or feelings are never sustained. The sketch format never quite allows for it.
Tucci never quite seems to get a bearing on his character, and the part remains slippery and elusive. Clarkson remains a powerful presence, and the key observation that her face contains a palpable sadness is undeniable. But moments like these are too isolated and few to gather the necessary intensity of feeling. Blind Date finds a power of recognition near the end with some startling effective home movie footage of the daughter. Unfortunately, by then it is too little and too late.
Cinemavault Releasing International
Gijs van de Westelaken
From the film and original screenplay
Theo van Gogh
Kim van Kooten
Director of photography