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by iF Magazine

"Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and quite memorable."
4 stars

The relationship film is one of the riskiest genres in existence. Usually, the worst that can happen with an action film is that it will fail to thrill; exploitation films may fail to excite; horror may lack a fear factor. However, films that seek to persuasively replicate some aspect of human interaction can, when done badly, seem not only dull and pompous but make the filmmakers seem as if they don't know how to observe their own species.

It is a pleasure to report that the makers of GUINEVERE demonstrate an acute awareness of precisely how and why certain individuals come together. Audrey Wells, making her directorial debut, has written a knowing, funny script that charts with compassion and some chagrin the lopsided romance between Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley) and Cornelius "Connie" Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea). Harper is 21 and, at first glance, would seem to have everything going for her. She is beautiful, has been accepted into Harvard Law School and has wealthy parents all too ready to pay her tuition. The only problem is that Harper doesn't know what she wants out of life, though she can't muster the nerve to tell her parents she doesn't want to be a lawyer.

Enter Connie, a hard-drinking but charming Irish photographer who, at age 50, is still broke and living in a tenement. Connie, taking the pictures at the wedding of Harper's sister, flirts with the unhappy bridesmaid. Connie sees potential in Harper and encourages her to discover her own abilities. He also sees her as a potential lover, for reasons that have less to do with her physical attributes than her uncritical outlook. Harper is intrigued with the possibilities, and initially devastated when she finds out that she's not the first young lady whom Connie has mentored and seduced.

GUINEVERE takes its title from the pet term Connie gives to his female acolytes. "Galatea" might be more to the point, although "Guinevere" seems more appropriate to Connie's world view. (Pygmalion was just a sculptor on his own; Arthur had all those knights and a kingdom to run.) While Wells has naturalistic levity in almost every scene, she also pinpoints exactly why some men choose lovers who, at least initially, will not challenge them, while some women will cope with almost anything if it means they will be granted nurturing attention. The film is also entirely mindful of what happens to such relationships once the woman starts to develop a sense of herself. Wells favors uncluttered sets and shot compositions; she plays with the camera just enough to provide a sense of momentum and visual variety without distracting us from the performances.

Polley, physically stunning, is so adept at bringing forth Harper's self-doubt that we actually believe the character is oblivious to her own appearance; the actress makes Harper coltishly awkward and introverted without becoming dull or muted. As she gradually blossoms, Polley brings out her confidence a shade at a time. Rea wonderfully encompasses an almost contradictory range of facets as Connie, going from wry charm to calm ferocity to crumpled devastation with assured conviction. Jean Smart, as Harper's steamroller of a mother, shows us the profound disappointment beneath the character's sniping exterior. She also makes the most of a speech about why she thinks Connie has sought out her daughter that many viewers may want to memorize for future quotation.

In GUINEVERE, Wells tells a quite specific tale that successfully encompasses a number of universal issues. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and ultimately quite memorable. ---Abbie Bernstein - iF Magazine (

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originally posted: 10/14/99 13:16:41
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User Comments

5/07/04 wylene Best part was Jean Smart's accurate description of Connie's motives 4 stars
7/28/01 Belinda So stupid. Could have picked a better lead actor. 1 stars
5/31/01 J.Arcane Sarah Polley is excellent. Film's taken over a one and a half years to release in Oz. 4 stars
3/29/00 "Persnickety" very good, was not expecting what i saw 4 stars
3/20/00 toneely very good Ms POLLEY 4 stars
9/25/99 The Lynchpyn Sarah Polley brings to life what could have been an ordinary '90s spin on "Lolita," 4 stars
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  24-Sep-1999 (R)


  02-Jun-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Audrey Wells

Written by
  Audrey Wells

  Sarah Polley
  Stephen Rea
  Jean Smart
  Paul Dooley
  Jasmine Guy

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