Music From Another Room

(Charlie Peters, USA, 1998)


Music From Another Room joins Dust off the Wings (1997) in the list of films that boast terribly forced, symbolic titles. The meaning of this one comes in a clumsy dinner table scene in which the central character, Danny (Jude Law), is asked to describe to the blind and lonely Nina (Jennifer Tilly) what love feels like.

Danny proceeds to earnestly compare love to the experience of listening to music from another room. Suddenly a door is shut and the sound can no longer be heard; but you are so in sync with the tune that, minutes later when the door is re-opened, your humming perfectly coincides with the music's return. Unsurprisingly, at least one other person at the table, Irene (Jane Adams), is moved to an immediate mock-suicide attempt by this obscure but supposedly profound analogy.

Music From Another Room has an odd premise and mood for what is ostensibly an affirmative, romantic comedy. Danny resembles the Terence Stamp character in Pasolini's Teorema (1968): the stranger, ambiguously angel or devil, who enters a serene household and begins to implacably overthrow everyone's routines and values.

Why has Danny moved in on this clan? Twenty-five years earlier, as a very young child, he helped his father deliver Anna from the womb of the ever-emotional Grace (Brenda Blethyn). Right there and then, he vowed to marry her. So, hopeless romantic that he is, Danny is on a mission – despite the fact that Anna is already engaged to the stolid Eric (Jon Tenney).

Another weightily symbolic aspect of this mediocre film comes from the occupations of each character. Danny is a mosaic tiler; that makes him old-fashioned, patient, sensitive and a bit mystical as he patches great artistic frescos together. Anna is a scientist who works with insects and plants; thus she is made to look proper, prissy, controlled, repressed.

For a while, writer-director Charlie Peters (who previously scripted such dross as Her Alibi [1989] and Jungle 2 Jungle [1997]) hints at an interesting triangle of mismatched desires joining Danny, Nina and Anna. But Nina is soon liberated from her fear by a sweet, sexy, working-class Latino – and by the experience of Danny reading Anna Karenina to her. So all that remains is for Danny to convince Anna that she is missing out on the love of her life. He is aided in this quest by a handy two-headed coin.

This is largely a charmless, unreal film. The actors do their best with impossible material – such as Martha Plimpton, who has a thankless role as a severe sister who runs a feminist theatre troupe subtly named "Actors Without Dicks", currently engaged in the production of Medea-Media in which an angry chorus of women pretends to club a man to death on stage.

Fortunately, that man happens to be Danny.

© Adrian Martin November 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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