In the mid-70s, near Reno, Grace Bontempo runs the Love Ranch, a legal brothel. Her husband Charlie, with big dreams, a felony record, and an aptitude for spending and infidelity, is the brothel's public face. On the day Grace's doctor tells her she has cancer in an advanced state, Charlie takes on new client, Argentine boxer Armando Bruza, Charlie's ticket to fame: he hopes to promote a fight with Ali. Because of Charlie's felonies, Grace is Bruza's titular manager. With the IRS and the church ladies circling the business, Grace takes the manager's role seriously and, along the way, Bruza charms her. Secrets play out: is there love at the Love Ranch? How will Charlie respond?Written by
Picture a caricature of everything that America, at some level, holds dear, yet despises. Think bling, brash, frantically optimistic and determinedly selfish, and you have the main character typecast by a weathered Joe Pesci. Add to the mix an insecure, yet intelligent and reasonably efficient brothel "madam" who is trapped by economics and an irresponsible, hyperactive, and deliberately delusional husband, and. you have a marriage which must resonate across the globe.
The film opens with an ironic and trite hope for the future. Auld Lang Syne is sung at a New Year's Eve party, which Robert Burnes, no stranger to joys of the flesh himself, would possibly have avoided. A stark naked man who has transcended the bounds of good taste, and possibly the law, is driven by the "Madam" (Helen Mirren) into the waiting furniture wielded by her husband, Pesci. The tame police in attendance remove the problem and the party continues.
Gradually the dynamics of the Pesci/Mirren relationship are revealed. She actually likes her charges and comforts herself in the knowledge that she is keeping them off the streets.
He struts around like a dove with an over-inflated breast, a disgustingly showy car with the vanity plate "LUV SEX", and the nickname of "Mr Good Times". He is a man whose very posture suggests violence, and he has only to threaten to smash the home telephone, her link to the outside world, to ensure that her timid attempt at rebellion turns into a whimpering desire to please him.
Pleasing him in the only way he understands is not that easy as she is older than the available nymphets and is very aware that his sudden business calls are not to any office block. The marriage of financial and social convenience could, theoretically, have lasted for years, as many convenient couples will attest, but reality has the unpleasant habit of intruding. A visit to the doctor and plastic convenience is stripped away. The selfishness of her husband is expertly conveyed in his answer to her questioning his love for her. "I *** love you," he says, "I could have never found a woman as loyal as you to take my s***." It says everything that he is totally unaware of the egocentric nature of his declaration of love.
Later, when their world is falling apart, and she is experiencing loss, and almost claustrophobic grief,he rails at her that she doesn't know what the **** he went through all night.
The tragic moment which announces the end of the film is justified by the quality of the acting. Yes, this could happen, and be a small article on the front page of the morning newspapers, but the film has made its point before the actual violence. It is all about self, the need for self-validation at the expense of others, the need to be desirable, the need to be in control, and even the need to be physically dominant while all these have inevitably and irrevocably been taken away by time.
It is a film worthy of a second viewing, if only to enjoy the performance of Pesci (which he has reprized from Goodfellas) and the revelation which is Helen Mirren. That she could go from the ultra- British role as the Queen to this, without a trace of genteel accent, but retain all the pathos of a woman who wants to love her husband and her life, is remarkable. Even the director gives her credit in an in- joke. When her husband dons a hat in keeping with his personality, she asks him who he thinks he is, 'Clint Eastwood'. He replies: "Who do you think you are? The Queen of England?"
Eminently watchable, character-driven, and filmed with an understated slickness, this is a film which might, regrettably, not set the box office alight, but which is very worth viewing for so many reasons. True, there are elements that echo events in some well-known films, which my spoiler-conscience prevents me from naming, but it is safe to say that this film strips the sentimentality from such and is the better for it. Taylor Hackford, I look forward to your next.
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