Hype and holler

The best of 1997 was OK, but sometimes the worst was better

For example: A Thousand Acres is a re-tooled King Lear in which Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jason Robards take turns wearing long faces. The Myth of Fingerprints also boasts a first-rate cast--including Julianne Moore, Blythe Danner, and Hope Davis--and then sets them to nattering and moaning. It's like Etch-A-Sketch Eugene O'Neill.

Then there's The Ice Storm, in which suburban swingers from the '70s get it in the neck. It's payback time for all those crumbum parents who, neglecting their children, mate-swapped their way to purgatory. The Ice Storm is one chilly movie, but things couldn't have been so freeze-dried back then. If they were, nobody would have had any fun, and there would be no need for Puritanical purges like The Ice Storm.

At least one new movie, Gregg Mottola's The Daytrippers, features an extended family that actually resembles a real one. You couldn't ask for a more headache-inducing matriarch than Anne Meara, and, as her daughters, Parkey Posey and Hope Davis have just the right battle-fatigued look. The family members in The Daytrippers are a familiar horror, but Mottola is such an observant writer-director that they stop being horrible after a while. We can't stand apart from them because we are them. The togetherness in this movie is earned because it hasn't been tenderized for us.

The most unexpected of family-themed movies turned out to be Paul Thomas Anderson's porno-world epic Boogie Nights, where the family that screws together stays together. In the way it thumps for family values, it's probably the most conservative movie of the year. Of course, the togetherness on view in this film is just as rigged as the Otherness on view in a film like The Ice Storm. If Anderson had really gotten inside the hot-wired circuitry of the porn business, his "family" of skinflick luminaries (played by, among others, Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, and Don Cheadle) might not seem so cozy. But Anderson wants us to know that family is where you find it and redemption is at hand. Hallelujah!

Maybe if Boogie Nights had done better at the box office it could have been turned into a real daisy chain of a movie franchise. There actually was talk for a while of a Boogie Nights TV series--I would like to have seen the sponsors for that one.

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