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Girl in a Swing, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Hypnotic Meg Tilly is By Far Its Best Asset"
2 stars

Having grossed just $747,013 during its limited U.S. release, it's not exactly ripe for rediscovery.

The beautiful, immensely-talented Meg Tilly made quite the indelible impression as the sharp-witted teenager in the 1982 Tex, where she effortlessly walked away with each and every one of her scenes, which was no small accomplishment being that her co-star Matt Dillon was no slouch himself. She followed that up with an endearing turn as the spacey widow in The Big Chill and an interesting one as Anthony Perkins’s duplicitous friend in Psycho II, and two years later she received a well-deserved Oscar nomination as the traumatized nun in Agnes of God, which was followed up with an even better performance as a feisty New York City policewoman in the comedy Off Beat. So it’s both a positive and a negative that she’s headlining the understated suspense picture The Girl in a Swing in that she’s utterly spellbinding from start to finish yet the lackluster material is so utterly beneath her -- you find yourself wanting to put her into protective custody from the moviemakers who’ve failed at providing her the suitable groundwork for a star vehicle worthy of her even though the movie isn’t a complete waste because the wondrous Tilly is always coming up with something enchanting, warranting our fullest attention. Unfortunately, the other star of the movie is Rupert Frazer, who’s a rather dull fellow playing the dull English antiques dealer Alan Courtney who embarks on his annual trip to Denmark to seek out pieces to acquire at the world-renowned auctions; while there he seeks out the temporary employment of a typist to translate his notes, and rather than some bookish, bespectacled nondescript he’s given Tilly’s gorgeous German Karin Forester, whose overwhelmingly sensual self succeeds in leaving Alan positively smitten, not to mention utterly spellbound, from first glance. Alan has someone of a romantic acquaintance back home, but she doesn’t leave his heart fluttering and him weak in the knees like Karin does -- it were as if Alan were regressing back to his school days experiencing his first schoolyard crush. When he can manage to get the words out, Alan courts Karin to teas and dinners while seeming to be walking on eggshells; he’s so helplessly spellbound he can’t concentrate on anything else, and if Tilly weren’t so perfectly right for her role the proceedings wouldn’t have nearly enough girth to sustain itself. (Frazer isn’t exactly inadequate, it’s just that he doesn’t have Tilly’s acting resources, but since Alan has been written as quintessentially skittish, Frazer’s limited interpretation rings more truth than it would in a better-developed role.) Alan confesses to Karin that whenever he leaves Copenhagen he feels as if he’s leaving his heart, as well as professing “You know you’re very different than all those porcelain ladies on shelves I have to go back to.” And the guarded Karin, willing to finally open herself up for once, accepts his offer of marriage and is even willing to immediately relocate countries just so she can be with Alan -- that is, with one stipulation: without explaining way, she insists that she can’t be married in a church, which initially leaves the traditional-values-raised Alan amiss but presents an inconvenience he’s more than willing to overlook out of undiluted love.

Is Alan paranoid or does the mysterious Karin have ulterior motives in mind? And being that The Girl in a Swing clocks in at just a few minutes shy of the two-hour mark, when the final credits are rolling we still haven’t the faintest idea. Those who’ve read Richard Adams’s same-title novel know it’s airily amorphous (I couldn’t get through the damn thing), and it would take a director with considerable verve and invention to churn out something even remotely coherent out of it, but the one who pulled duty here, Gordon Hessler, who also did the screenplay, is fine at presenting scenes but isn’t particularly adept at interpreting them so as they have either a dramatic or psychological resonance. There’s a basic A-to-C deficiency where B has been left out so as to not complicate matters with such incidentals as subtext -- apparently, we’re supposed to assume that the unspoken should automatically be assumed as irrefutable “art,” thus rendering this vacuous movie without anything of a core. There are top-heavy bits of Karin described as “having wings” and her subsequent snapping of a wounded bird’s neck, and it’s of the utmost importance that Karin succeeds in spotting for Alan at an auction an ultra-rare porcelain statue of a girl in a swing that is only one of three in existence in the world (this invaluable piece alone is worth enough to keep his business going for several years), but all of this, as Shakespeare would have said, winds up signifying absolutely nothing. And that includes Karin’s being frightened by a stuffed pillow of a green tortoise that supposedly contains something of malevolence, but it, too, is underdeveloped and you can see Hessler is grasping at straws. The initially fascinating The Girl in a Swing tries venturing into metaphysical-horror territory in the second half, which is one of the most difficult things to pull off (Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is the only successful one that comes to mind), and what with the numerous dead spots while we eagerly await the relevancies we can’t help but notice how haphazard the scenes are shaped and the dramatic foci carelessly rendered. We don’t want cheapo scare effects, but we also don’t want to die of boredom in endless anticipation for something to happen after all this lugubrious buildup. (There’s a pointless interlude where Alan and Karin go to a friend’s posh mansion in Miami for a few days that lends little to the story.) It’s as Hessler spent so much time concocting the screenplay that when it came time to film it he no longer had the movie “in his head,” and having immersed himself so deeply in it he lost sight of the basics that would give the movie the necessary propulsion to sweep us along. And matters aren’t helped by the undistinguished visual schema -- shot mostly in soft-focus pastels, it looks like a gauze pad had been placed on the camera lens (the Miami locales could be New Jersey); just because Hessler wanted a “classy” production he had to go Masterpiece Theatre on us with all this inexpressive starchiness? The movie badly needs Tilly’s virtuosity, because she’s the only one in the cast who doesn’t seem to be operating on automatic pilot, and can single-handedly command our attention with the mere arching of an eyebrow or a mere deep-seated glance with those hypnotic brown eyes. If only this vapid movie were even remotely worthy of her.

Frustratingly evasive right when you want to "give" yourself to it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29140&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/28/15 11:15:01
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USA
  29-Sep-1989 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Gordon Hessler

Written by
  Gordon Hessler

Cast
  Meg Tilly
  Rupert Frazer
  Nicholas Le Prevost
  Elspet Gray
  Lynsey Baxter



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