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Unconditional Love (DVD)

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Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 2003 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: P.J. Hogan / Actors: Kathy Bates, Rupert Everett, Meredith Eaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Lynn Redgrave ... / DVD released 2004-04-26 at Entertainment in Video / Features of the DVD: PAL

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    1 Review
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      12.08.2009 10:38
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      A film that doesn't know what it wants to be

      Grace Beasley's life is thrown into disarray when her husband tells her he wants a divorce and her beloved singer idol, Victor Fox is murdered. Devastated, she heads off to the UK, in the hope of attending Fox's funeral and perhaps meeting some of his friends and family. However, her reception is not well-received; Fox's valet, Dirk, slams the door in her face. Eventually, thanks to encouragement from Fox's family, Grace befriends Dirk, discovering that he was actually Fox's lover, something kept very quiet to avoid upsetting fans. Together Grace and Dirk decide to return to Chicago to hunt down Fox's killer. Grace's family thinks she is mad, but her daughter-in-law Maudey is willing to help her. Together, can they discover who the killer is? And will Grace reconcile with her husband?

      This film contains such a host of well-known actors from both sides of the pond, that it is a miracle I had never heard of it before watching. Kathy Bates plays Grace Beasley and gives her normal assured performance; just as well as she more or less carries the film. It isn't really a difficult role for her though and it certainly isn't a role I'm going to remember quickly whenever I think of Kathy Bates. Rupert Everett, who plays Dirk, is also good - although again, he isn't really challenged. He does show some emotion when he first meets Grace, but it is fairly short-lived; after that, there isn't much depth to the character at all - through no fault of Everett's though. Meredith Eaton, who plays Maudey, deserves an honourable mention, although she is one of the few actors in the film that I haven't heard of before. Eaton is a dwarf, which does have some relevance in the film (more of that later), and has a vivacious demeanour that makes her shine every time she's on screen, which isn't really often enough.

      The list of famous faces continues. Dan Ackroyd plays Grace's husband. He offers very little in the way of comedy here, chosing to play the character very dully. Peter Saarsgard (Jarhead, Orphan) plays a window washer who turns out to have a more important part in the film later on. Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce plays Victor Fox, who, despite being dead for much of the film, pops up surprisingly often. Even Barry Manilow and Julie Andrews have cameos! Most surprising of all though was the appearance of well-known British actors Richard Briers, Lynn Redgrave, Stephanie Beacham and Marcia Warren as family and friends of Victor Fox's. Their roles are small, but still pertinent to the story, and it was a pleasure to see them.

      The main problem with this film is its lack of identity. I honestly couldn't place it in any one particular genre. There are times when it is comic, although definitely not of the laugh out loud variety - more the 'aren't the Brits quirky and odd' type. It is definitely a drama at times; Grace's life is very sad, as is Dirk's and Maudey's. Then there are smatterings of film noir about it in the attempt to track down Fox's killer, as well as a certain amount of romance. It could also be classed as a musical - there is certainly a lot of music and performances throughout the film. This makes it hard to recommend the film to anyone - it is not going to satisfy a lover of romance, for example, nor of crime fiction. I believe a lot more effort should have gone into working out the target audience, something that clearly didn't really happen.

      On top of that, the storyline is amazingly confusing. There are just so many people involved and the emphasis changes at a frenetic pace. First, it is a story of a dumped, middle-aged woman who is so lonely that her love for an idol takes over her life. Then it becomes the story of a man who has lost his lover. Then the crime angle takes over. And in between, there is Maudey's story and Fox's legacy that his family want to get their hands on. There is absolutely no way anyone could guess where the story is going - which ordinarily wouldn't be a bad thing for me, but in this case, I soon worked out that I didn't care all that much. It is clear, mainly because of the title, that the director, P J Hogan, was trying to emphasise that love should be unconditional, no matter whether you're gay, straight, a dwarf or otherwise - unfortunately, all that got lost amongst the complicated screenplay.

      Then there is the problem of where in the UK the film is supposed to be based. Grace's initial conversation with a Brit appears to be with a Welsh woman, albeit, I suspect, an American with an appalling Welsh accent and there is a hint that they are in Wales. But then no one else involved has a Welsh accent, they have a mish mash of English regional accents. A quick look at the filming locations on imdb.com shows that it was filmed in Herefordshire and Shropshire, which, as every Brit will know, is getting towards Wales, but isn't. This may not be important for many viewers, but it annoys the hell out of me because, to my mind at least, it presumes Brits will accept that, as it is an American film, location in the UK isn't all that important. On top of that, it also proves that the film-makers don't have a great deal of respect for their American audience, assuming they are too stupid to know the difference between England and Wales. If that is indeed the case, why not take the opportunity to educate them a little?

      Lovers of musicals will probably enjoy the film, because there is a great deal of singing - and it is of a high standard. It is fairly old-fashioned - think Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra songs - but for me, it made a pleasant back-drop to the film and fitted in well.

      There are just a couple of special features - a single deleted scene, which is not terribly important, and a trailer.

      This isn't an absolutely terrible film, thanks mainly to Kathy Bates and Rupert Everett. However, it also isn't a film that I particularly want to see again - once was most definitely enough - I felt exhausted by the end of it. If you're a fan of any of the main actors, it might just be worth a glance, but I most certainly wouldn't recommend spending a great deal of money on it. Two stars out of five.

      The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99, but I bought my copy from Poundland.

      Classification: 15 (I presume for mentions of homosexuality...)

      Running time: 124 minutes

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