To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday

on October 18, 1996 by Susan Lambert
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   Based on a play of the same name by Michael Brady, this is a gentle movie about loss and love that loses its way in the middle of a contrived plot. "While You Were Sleeping's" Peter Gallagher is intensely earnest and in bad need of a good haircut as David, a reclusive man desperately in love with his wife, Gillian, none other than a luminous Michelle Pfeiffer. They talk on the beach every night for hours. The only problem is she's been dead for two years and everyone thinks it's about time David gave up the ghost. Particularly disturbed by her father's behavior is budding Rachel ("Home for the Holidays'" Claire Danes), who is torn between supporting her father and her own need to let go of her mother and move on.
   The beautiful backdrop of a weekend on Nantucket Island provides the perfect opportunity to "open up" the production, yet the film still can't escape its prosceniumbound origins. What worked on stage as magical and poetic becomes stilted and obvious in filmic waters. The onthenose dialogue hangs heavy in the air, sticky with the fingers of a clever writer trying too hard to say something important.
   Director Michael Pressman (executive producer of TV's "Picket Fences") has a certain flair with actors but not a good handle on pace. Too much emotion is packed into the overwrought second half, which destroys the fine sliver of enchantment that should permeate the piece. Any film that contemplates child molestation as the courageous act of a passionate life is subject to intense scrutiny, and the film is too slight to support such thoughts.
   In his feature film debut, Freddie Prinze, Jr. gives an intriguing turn as Rachel's love interest. In just a few scenes he projects a promising presence. But, despite this being a story about the angst of men, the film is held together by the performances of its women. Pfeiffer practically glows as the painfully amused Gillian, and Danes with a grace far beyond her years has perfected adolescent stoic angst to high art. Starring Peter Gallagher, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer. Directed by Michael Pressman. Written by David E. Kelley. Produced by Marykay Powell and David E. Kelley. A Triumph release. Drama. Rated R for a scene involving strong language. Running time: 105 min. Opens wide Oct. 18
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