The Cemetery Club

(aka Looking for a Live One, Bill Duke, USA, 1993)


The career of director Bill Duke has taken some mighty queer turns.

After the luridly violent, proudly militant action thrillers A Rage in Harlem (1991) and Deep Cover (1992), Duke was next represented on Australian screens by the frothy Whoopi Goldberg comedy Sister Act 2 (1993). But there is another Duke film marking this transition: The Cemetery Club, available on video in Australia under the awful title Looking for a Live One.

Although Duke tries to cram African-American performers into every available nook and cranny, this film is essentially a whitebread, Jewish comedy. Three women (Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis and Diane Ladd) find refuge in their mutual friendship when, one by one, their husbands die. They constitute the “cemetery club”, and they spend their days and nights vacillating between a vocation of mourning and dreams of starting over.

Love comes calling for Burstyn when an ex-cop (Danny Aiello) appears one day at the cemetery, tending the grave of his own deceased spouse. Like many comedy-dramas of friendship, this one (adapted by Ivan Menchell from his play) poses the problem of intimate romance versus daily sociality, impassioned fancies versus down-to-earth realities. As one in the growing genre of films about ageing, it thickens this brew by emphasising the frailty of the human body, and the difficulty of sexual intimacy.

This is in many respects a formulaic movie, with its accent resolutely on up-beat reassurance. But Duke, burrowing inside this new formula, has managed to capture some very delicate, poignant exchanges (especially between Burstyn and Aiello). And he coaxes commendably restrained performances from Lane and Dukakis.

I’m looking forward to the moment when Duke can bring the humanist whimsy of The Cemetery Club and the blood-soaked melodrama of Deep Cover together in the same movie!

© Adrian Martin May 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search