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Trivialized Sex, Cheap Film

A CINEMATIC VIEW

By Robert E. Lauder | July August 1986

I cannot remember when I wanted to like a movie as much as I wanted to like Sweet Liberty, the latest opus of Alan Alda. For the second time Alda stars in a film he has also written and direct­ed. His first effort was Four Seasons. Alda’s reputa­tion as a nice guy who is reasonable and likable seems more than a PR concoction. In both Four Seasons and this film a kind of gentle affection for people shines through every frame. Moviemaking needs more people with Alda’s good intentions. However, I can’t think of a more obvious example than Sweet Liberty of good intentions just not be­ing enough.

It is too early in Alda’s movie career to make any general comment about his ability, but in Sweet Liberty the author/actor/director misses in every role. The word that comes to mind to de­scribe Sweet Liberty is “bland.” Screenwriter Alda relates the experiences of Burgess, a college profes­sor who has written a Pulitzer Prize-winning histor­ical novel set at the time of the Revolutionary War. Hollywood has decided to film the novel, and film it in the town in which Burgess teaches. The plot has lots of possibilities. Unfortunately, almost none of them is realized.

The cast is about as good as it can be under the circumstances. The best parts as written by Al­da are the phrenetic scriptwriter played very well by Bob Hoskins, the womanizing actor Elliott James, who is playing the male lead in the film within a film, and the beautiful actress Faith Healy, who is playing the other lead. As the actor and actress, Michael Caine and Michelle Pfeiffer, have a few good moments. There are no hilarious laughs in Sweet Liberty, but Hoskins and Caine do cause an occasional smile — in fact they are good enough to make me wish they were in another movie. Pfeiffer does suggest something of the complexity of an actress who is trying to identify totally with a role. At one point Burgess (played by Alda) says to her that she is two different people and she re­sponds, “If all I could be is two different people, I’d be out of business.” That line is typical of her dedication to her career, but also at least hints that the real person may be difficult to discover. My guess is that Alda wanted to make some points about actors’ problems with living in the real world, but nothing significant comes across.

The occasional bright moment provided by Hoskins or Caine or Pfeiffer is not enough to brighten up the entire film. The parts of Burgess, his girlfriend (Lise Hilboldt), his mother, and the director are badly under written. When any of these characters is on screen alone or together you get the feeling that something is about to happen, but it never does. Sweet Liberty is unfocused and wanders around aimlessly.

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