If Lucy Fell

(Eric Schaeffer, USA, 1996)


The depiction of artists in movies rarely fails to make me laugh – although not exactly the kind of laughter intended by the filmmakers. This is particularly the case when movies try to distinguish good and true artists from bad, evil ones. In Tim Hunter’s thriller Paint it Black (1989), for example, the psychotic killer (Doug Savant) is a weedy, effeminate conceptual artist; the hero (Rick Rossovich), on the other hand, is a macho sculptor who works with a welding iron, and resembles a sports star.


If Lucy Fell tries on this trick within the genre of romantic comedy. Joe (Eric Schaeffer) is a sweet, no-nonsense painter who teaches free artistic expression to very young children. His nemesis in the game of love, Bwick (Ben Stiller), is a ridiculous amalgam of Jeff Koons and Jackson Pollock – a pretentious, wilfully dyslexic “action artist” who scrawls equations such as “Love = Life = Death” over his canvases. Of course, he makes a fortune out of it.


It takes quite a while before the essential rivalry between these two men is foregrounded. Because while Bwick is dating Lucy (Sarah Jessica Parker), Joe is pursuing his dream-woman from the apartment across the way, Jane (Elle Macpherson). And Joe and Lucy are just the best of friends – or, at least, that is what they have assumed for years.


The problem of sorting out friendship from love is one of the great dilemmas of the romantic comedy genre. If Lucy Fell adds little that is new or unpredictable to the familiar treatments of this theme. But writer-director Schaeffer – who has certainly improved his act since his lame-brained, amateurish, co-directed debut My Life’s in Turnaround (1994) – works in a number of infectious touches.


As in the whimsical romances by Ernst Lubitsch or Billy Wilder, there are pleasant narrative games involving the repeated appearance of particular lines, objects and gestures. As in a Blake Edwards comedy, there is a winningly silly exaggeration of caricatural and stereotypical behaviour (even Bwick is pretty funny). And, as in a Paul Mazursky film, there is room for sidebar characters who are refreshingly wicked, blunt and grumpy.


The performances are something of a smorgasbord. Parker has become a specialist, in this genre, at projecting an air of frazzled, girlish neurosis (something she was to later take to the height of TV stardom in Sex and the City). Schaeffer tends to be more grating than charming as an on-screen presence, but he gives himself much amusing business. Alas, Macpherson has a thankless role as a ‘90s version of Bo Derek in 10 (1979), gorgeous but icy and – god forbid – terribly unromantic.

© Adrian Martin May 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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