Sunday, August 29, 2010

cinema obscura: John Huddles' "Far Harbor" (1996)

There's a certain subgenre that I've dubbed "the hanging out movie" - you know, that film where a group of friends gather together to drink, eat reminisce, complain and have sex.

John Sayles arguably introduced the form with his breakthrough movie, "The Return of the Secaucus Seven" (1979), and his idea was quickly appropriated a few years later by Lawrence Kasdan for "The Big Chill" (1984). While Sayles' film was scruffy and companionable, Kasdan's arch, glossy take on the material took it to its nadir. Still, it was phenomenally, inexplicably, popular, inspiring several imitations.

One of the least-known clones is John Huddles' "Far Harbor," a 1996 effort that, like Kasdan's movie, uses death to bring its cast of characters together. In this case, it's the death of a child which inspires a weekend getaway. Ryland (Jim True-Frost) thinks it will be good for his stressed wife Ellie (Jennifer Connelly) - and their marriage - if they play hosts to several friends in the seaside Far Harbor.

Playing the guests are Marcia Gay Harden, Dan Futterman, George Newbern, Tracee Ellis Ross (Diana's daughter), Andrew Lauren and Edward Atterton, who plays a struggling film writer named Frick (you heard me) and who also happens to be Ellie's first husband.

So much for a stress-free weekend.

The material is underwhelming but the gifted young cast - well, young in 1996 - makes for good company, and Futterman in particular stands out in a few edgy scenes. "Far Harbor" was Huddles' first and only theatrical film; he subsequently directed the cable movie, "At Sachem Farm" (1998), starring Minnie Driver, Rufus Sewell, Amelia Heinle and Nigel Hawthorne, before seemingly disappearing from the scene.

Originally titled "Mr. Spielberg's Boat," the title was changed after Steven Spielberg refused permission to use his name. And so the name Steven Spielberg in the film became David Sprechman, an unseen character whose status as a famed filmmaker brings out the impatience in Frick.

"Far Harbor" pops up on the Independent Film Channel in September, airing Saturday, Sept. 4 at 8:30 a.m. (est), Saturday, Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 16 at 10:45 a.m. and Thursday, Sep. 16 at 6:00 p.m.


jbryant said...

I recall seeing at least part of this a few years back (probably just to stare at Jennifer Connelly), but don't remember much.

You mention Amelia Heinle--I thought she had disappeared, too, after impressing me in THE LIMEY, but I see on imdb that she's been on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS for the last 5 years.

wwolfe said...

I think I count three Oscar winners in that cast - Connelly and Harden for Supporting Actress, and Futterman for Screenplay ("Capote"). I can't say for sure, but that might be a record for a Cinema Obscura entry. I'd be interested in seeing this - or at least in seeing if I want to see it - so thanks for the referral.

joe baltake said...

Jay! Glad to hear that there is another Amelia Heinle enthusiast out there. She's been something of a soap opera staple for the past ten years or so - which, I guess, kinda means she's trapped. But she's still a commanding presence. She looks great on "The Young and the Restless," a terrific daytime drama, the best, and consistently turns in a compelling, edgy performance. BTW, Eric Roberts and Sean Young are also on the show now, and Susan Olsen - Cindy Brady herself! - has signed on for a few appearances. Of course, Y&R is the home of Eric Braeden, who I will forever honor for Joseph Sargent's "Colossus - The Forbin Project" (1970).

joe baltake said...

Bill! Futterman was nominated for an Oscar but did not win that year. His "Capote" script lost to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for their "Brokeback Mountain." He did, however, win an Independent Spirit Award for his screenplay and was also cited by several critics' groups.

jbryant said...

Wow, had no idea Y&R was adding "names" to the cast. I actually met Sean Young back in April at one of those Hollywood collectors conventions; she was very personable and we had a nice chat (come to think of it, I think Susan Olsen was there, too). I also encountered Eric Roberts a few years ago while driving along Ventura Blvd. We both stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk, and someone honked at him to keep moving. I guess he thought it was me, because when we were stopped beside each other at the next light, he looked over, smiled and gave me the peace sign.

I haven't had any encounters with Amanda Heinle, but here's hoping! :)

joe baltake said...

Jay! In a lifetime past, I once had lunch with Pauline Kael who confided that she skipped evening screenings when "Rich Man, Poor Man" was on. She apparently loved it. I figure if RM,PM is good enough for Kael, then I should not be embarrassed to admit I watch - and tape - Y&R. I highly recommend it. Again, Heinle is terrific, a movie star waiting to happen.

jbryant said...

I have nothing against adding Y&R to my DVR, in theory at least (I was a General Hospital addict in my early 20s). But I fear in practice it would simply go unwatched, since I barely have time to fit in the other shows and movies I record. Maybe I'll dip a toe in and see how it goes.

I saw Kael speak at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale when I was in film school there (late '80s, not sure which year). Didn't meet her though. But I loved RICH MAN, POOR MAN. Never missed it and never felt guilty about it (well, I was only about 18 at the time, and it did get a ton of Emmy nominations, so it wasn't too "tainted"). I don't remember much about it, frankly; would love to see it again.

wwolfe said...

Ah - the vagaries of my memory strike again! Thanks for the correction. (I was a Rich Man, Poor Man fan, too, by the way. Among other good work, I thought it contained Van Johnson's best performance as The (Slightly) Ugly American for whom I believe the young Nick Nolte worked.)