Directed by Stanley Tucci
Screened nearly 20 months ago in Sundance, Blind Date is a bit rougher around the edges than most of the palatable faux-indies that prey off pseudo-creative sycophants in Park City every year, which is likely why its date with distribution was delayed. That’s not to say actor/writer/director Stanley Tucci’s Blind Date, an uneven remake of Theo Van Gogh’s same-named Dutch film, is entirely successful in its experimental depiction of a broken couple dealing with the death of their 5-year-old daughter.
The now-barely married pair now get their relationship kicks by responding to each other’s personals ads, and often take on different personas. Therefore, the film is essentially comprised of a variety of blind dates, loosely tied together with cigarette and snifter interludes. Flip-flopping between casually charming chatter and gobsmackingly obvious affectations, the film maintains stability due to two sturdy legs named Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci (the actor). It’s a rather stagy actor’s showcase, and they certainly showcase their effortless wit and thespian know-how.
The sexually frustrated father of the deceased, Don (Tucci), is a secondhand magician and owner of an old, creaky dust trap of a bar/nightclub. The sole setting for the film, which oozes early 20th-century European flair, is filled with half-empty pints, dimmed candles, and the ash of the million cigarettes smoked under its roof. Don and Janna (Clarkson) deal with their daughter’s death the way a conjurer and a dancer would. There’s acute psychology in its central conceit, tracing the impulse of creative types to create fiction out of life when fear and anxieties become too difficult to confront realistically. With such a rich theme, it’s disheartening to watch the couple continue to fool themselves about their shattered selves—not simply because they’re such tragic characters, but because the increasingly dour duo become less and less interesting.
The film gets stuck in its own cycle of relationship chess. As the illusion melts and the cheeky, and hardly veiled, allusions to the truth become starkly apparent, tedium overcomes tension. The tension isn’t built-it’s recycled. Almost every vignette is predictably punctuated with either profanities or tears, and the finale that serves to exaggerate such self-destruction is preposterous.
Despite the fluidity with which Tucci and Clarkson exchange dialogue, most of the script is too on the nose. Don-ever the emotionally elusive figure-likes to play hide and seek. Janna points out that the flowers Don gives hr are fake, and he quips, “Yeah, but they’ll last forever”—even further spelling out the delusion of these characters. The voiceover narration, provided by their dead daughter, explicitly fills in any psychological gaps, too.
To Tucci (the director)’s credit, he does have control over his atmosphere, which is palpable since the dusty bar setting is so strong-with its cabaret stage insisting that “all the whole world is a stage.” At one point, Don mentions, “There’s something off.” Janna replies: “well, if something can be considered off, then it must have once been on.” Essentially, the film’s relationship with the audience functions in this way, as well, and the downfall of such a promising premise is nearly as disappointing.
Opens September 25