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I like Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald. I generally like movies adapted from plays (in that I have nothing against them). I like stunning scenery and I can enjoy a romantic drama. Most of all, I like liking things. What I don't like... is Fresh Horses.
Fresh Horses begins following a day in the life of Cincinatti college student Matt (Andrew McCarthy). Matt is getting away from his wealthy socialite fiancée for the night at a house-party in the boondocks on the invite of his friend Tipton (Ben Stiller). This house party is like none I have ever seen before - there's beer, a pool table, bearded people, and... folding washing. The woman folding washing is Jewel (Molly Ringwald). Jewel may look like a baby prostitute, and while the dialogue between her and Matt may be stilted, it's obvious there is some attraction there. So perhaps it isn't surprising that only a few scenes later that they have something resembling love-making ("Is this sex?" / "He hasn't taken his coat off." / "They're on the porch!"). Matt thusly dumps his fiancée for Jewel. So far, so Pretty In Pink. The twist in the tale comes when Matt hears rumours that Jewel is not all she seems, in more ways than one - and the cracks begin to show in their otherwise burgeoning love affair.
For me the Deep South conjures up images of red sand and Stetsons, but the setting of Fresh Horses is far removed from baking sun and cowboys. Rural Kentucky is drab, bleak, cold. As is Jewel's situation; soon Matt learns that, after being abused by her step-father, Jewel married young just to get out of the house*. Her husband, Green (Viggo Mortenson) is apparently murderous but thankfully - absent. It's the scars from her upbringing that linger with Jewel.
Matt, priveleged and educated, just can't understand Jewel. He takes it upon himself to rearrange her and her life; organising annulment papers, questioning her lifestyle, suggesting she go back to school. Matt would be supportive if he wasn't so insistent on changing Jewel into someone else. It quickly becomes apparent that he believes Jewel isn't good enough for him, despite the fact they love each other. Both of them come to realise this when, on Jewel delivering devastating news, he interrupts Jewel to correct her grammar.
Perhaps what I have just described leaves readers puzzled as to why, then, I have given Fresh Horses such a low score. After all, while the city boy and country girl romance might not be the most original in the world, when delivered by competent actors and with a decent script, it can still pull its own weight. However - this is where Fresh Horses fails.
Ringwald's Southern accent may be off, and McCarthy's dress sense a little weird and hoboish for such a wealthy young man, but it's obvious that the script here is the biggest problem. The dialogue is very odd, not only between Matt and Jewel but between Matt and Tipton, his friend. One such example is an apparently illuminating piece of dialogue from Tipton (Stiller) to Matt: "Look, when the horse underneath us drops, we take a fresh one." When Jewel talks about her upbringing, in particular, her abusive parents, the things she comes out with are almost laughably cliché (including that she had been smoking cigarettes from infancy). Ben Stiller's role as Tipton, was, again - extremely odd. Why would someone attempt to sabotage their best friend's relationship when they would gain nothing from their break-up? The way the character is written is unrealistic and creepy. I'm still unsure why he was hanging around someone's house in the country in the first place.
Despite these glaring faults, I think what most bothers me about Fresh Horses is the arrogance inherent in the film's production. To take two actors from their leading roles in a successful teen film about culture clash and age them up to adults in the same situation, mix in an adaptation of the director's own play, a few other famous contemporary actors, add some 80s background tunes, shake well, and serve. Sadly, this was not a recipe for success. The resulting film is carelessly constructured and uneven in tone. What is most annoying is that there are glimpses of potential greatness within the soggy script and lacklustre delivery - the stunning shots of the (almost ravaged looking) backwater boondocks; the occassional insightful line, such as the one Tipton delivered about the difficulty in making friends as an adult; the hints of witchcraft or occultism that Jewel alludes to. Because of this, I feel this film deserves a novel adaptation or a re-make, as it does have some potential to be an interesting or compelling romantic drama. However, as it is, Fresh Horses it not worth your time, or mine.
Price: ATOR - £12.15 (used); £13.33 (new)
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 4 Front Video
DVD Release Date: 1 Aug 2005
Run Time: 103 minutes
* This isn't a spoiler; it's in the second sentence on IMDB and I went into the movie fully knowing this. It is revealed in the first half hour. Just in case you were anxious.