I am by no means more artistically educated than the average moviegoer, since the overall “package deal” (hour-and-a-half-minimum of escapism, good excuse to eat junk food, and, of course, soundtrack options) of any movie for which I grudgingly shell out $7.50 is usually as important as any lessons learned during the time spent watching it. However, marketing victim and mass consumer that I am, even I know about character development. plot resolution and credibility. Even Julie Christie’s award-winning performance can’t make up for the fact that Afterglow was lacking in all of these aspects.
The storyline revolves around two couples, both of which are hovering on the brink of demise. The initial introduction of the characters left me with an adequate amount of head-scratching and “Why’d they do that?” feelings. Standard beginning fare for movies in the ‘90s. However, also standard is that quirky behaviors be at least subtly explained and/or satisfiable justified as the movie progresses.
When we’re first introduced to the Byrons, Marianne (Laura Flynn Boyle) is gazing dreamily at a slinky-but-tasteful nightgown through a boutique window, debating on whether to buy it. Which she does. Later that evening she gets all dolled up and seductively greets Jeffrey (Johnny Lee Miller) as he walks in the door after a typical day of winning corporate battles. Instead of thanking his lucky stars for having married such a woman, he scoffs her attempts and complains about her neglecting to have a doorknob repaired.
Which leads us to the Manns, via Lucky (Nick Nolte), whom I consider to be a stereotypical and unimaginative character study. Lucky is a handyman, whose many talents (plumbing, construction, barstool therapy, and, of course, illicit sex) lead him into the sexually- and emotionally-starved arms of Marianne, just as they have to many other lonely housewives in the neighborhood. Oddly enough, Lucky’s extra-curricular activities don’t seem to bother his wife Phyllis (Julie Christie), a beautifully aging former B-movie actress. In fact, her playful, you-naughty-boy scolding of his promiscuousness and mild voyeuristic actions make us wonder if we will find out later that she is simply getting her kicks vicariously through him.
Next stop is the lounge of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal, where the movie briefly gets interesting and then loses focus. Marianne and Lucky enjoy an intimate tête-à-tête, while, unbeknownst to them, Phyllis lurks incognito watches them from afar. Ironically and perhaps too coincidentally, Jeffrey books a suite for two weeks at the same hotel to get away from his marriage. Rather cliche, as well, that he walks in one door of the hotel lounge just as Lucky and Mariane are walking arm-in-arm out of the other. The fact that he chooses Phyllis of all of the available women available to distract his thoughts makes the foundation for the remainder of the movie too contrived to be believable.
After spending a romantic, albeit unconsummated, weekend in the country, Phyllis and Jeffrey decide to have a nightcap in the hotel lounge, where, of course, Lucky and Marianne are sharing another cozy cocktail. Jeffrey’s jealous reaction at seeing them together is totally uncharacteristic of everything we’ve seem of him thus far.
To the movie’s credit, we do eventually learn of the forces that drive Phyllis and Lucky to act as they do. After he discovers that their fifteen year-old daughter Cassie was biologically not his own, Lucky instigated a heated argument with Phyllis, which in turn caused Cassie’s much-grieved departure. They now have a nonverbal agreement in which, because she is unable or unwilling to be intimate with the husband still loves, Lucky is free to have his needs met elsewhere.
My biggest complaint is about the sorely underdeveloped character Jeffrey Byron. While his attractiveness and professional success understandably contribute to his arrogance, only about forty-five seconds worth of celluloid address his prudish behavior towards Marianne. The only memorable comment he makes on the subject is along the lines of “Is moral decency such a bad thing?”, which could have helped maters, had he not been driving Phyllis back to Montreal after their weekend tryst when he said it. Also, after the one time he indulges his wife, he dismisses it by saying “Everyone gets crazy sometimes.”
Since when is it crazy to make love to your spouse?
As much as I tried to like Afterglow, I simply could not buy into any of its characters. Nor could I let the coincidences slide. (Have I pointed out Nick Nolte’s character’s name is Lucky Mann?) They occasionally lend themselves to funny dialogue (“So what is your husband doing right now?” . . “The same thing as your wife.”), but the fact that they are barely even acknowledged adds to the overall poor quality of the movie’s writing.
Maybe next time I’ll ask for extra butter. . .