Empire (UK), December 1991

Aunt Julia And The Scriptwriter

Rating: ***--

In an effort to transport us back to radioland in 1952, this opens with the golden-voiced Henry Gibson reading out the credits of the picture (which at least means you learn how to pronounce the name of author Maria Vargas Llosa, upon whose novel William Boyd's clever script is based) although this stunt seems far more relevant of those early 70s Robert Altman films Gibson was in, which tried similar frame-breaking stunts. The upfront story concerns a young would-be-writer (Reeves) who has an affair with his much older aunt-by-marriage (Hershey), but, in the style familiar from director Amiel's work on The Singing Detective and Queen of Hearts, it is interleaved with several levels of fantasy.

The New Orleans radio station for which Reeves works hires eccentric Pedro Carmichael (Falk) to boost the ratings of its sagging soap opera, wherupon the manipulative and enigmatic writer adds shocking doses of incest to the storyline, also poaching from Reeves' affair to spice things up, and then proceeding to prod Reeves and Hershey into various further complications in order to give himself more material. Meanwhile, he is peppering his scripts with increasingly surreal and bizarre anti-Albanian jokes, stirring up New Orleans' surprisingly large Albanian community into violent and potentially apocalyptic protest.

This suffers from a problem experienced by many fantasy-or-reality pictures, the fantastic complications being more interesting than the mundane central thread, which is here compounded by the mere adequacy of the Reeves-Hershey scenes by comparison with the droll soap opera inserts, when we cut from a small group of pathetic radio actors and their one-man-band sound technician to a sumptuous acting-out of the story with a cast of super cameos (Elizabeth McGovern, Peter Gallagher, John Larroquette, Dan Hedaya, Buck Henry). Falk walks away with the film, climaxing with one of the funniest scenes of the year as he takes over the whole soap, playing all the parts including an Albanian dog-rapist and his canine victim.

Starring: Barbara Hershey, Keanu Reeves, Peter Falk
Director: Jon Amiel
Details: 107 mins Cert 12 USA (Hobo)

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