Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

(aka Tune in Tomorrow … , Jon Amiel, USA, 1990)


Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter offers a grandiose story of writers and the writing process – this time in a romantic vein, rather than the Gothic approach adopted by Naked Lunch (1991) or Kafka (1991).

An Americanised adaptation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel (handled with flair by noted British television and film director Jon Amiel), it is set in the world of 1950s radio soap opera.

The scriptwriter of the title is Pedro Carmichael (the talented Peter Falk in his most eccentric role). Pedro lives his art – he dresses up as his soapie characters, sets up juicy real-life scenes to provide him with material, and incites both the loves and hatreds of his listeners. He also philosophises about the act of writing – especially to his young protégé Martin (Keanu Reeves), who finds himself romantically drawn to his vivacious Aunt Julia (Barbara Hershey).

As in Soapdish (1991), much of the humour in the film derives from the hilarious comparison made between the soap opera on the air (lavishly visualised for us by Amiel) and the soap opera of the characters’ real lives. There’s some message to all of this – about the need to live crazily and romantically – but it’s rather lightweight, almost thrown away.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter resembles, in its busy awkwardness, screen adaptations of other cosmically wacky novels like The Hotel New Hampshire (1984) and The World According to Garp (1982).

Just as those films joked uneasily about feminism and civil rights, this one goes all cute and fuzzy on the subject of racism. Pedro lamely justifies his merciless persecution of Albania and its citizens in his scripts with the cracker-barrel philosophy: "You gotta hate someone!"

MORE Amiel: Entrapment, Queen of Hearts, Sommersby

© Adrian Martin May 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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