Love and Death on Long Island (Canada/UK, 1998)

Directed by: Richard Kwietniowski. After the death of the late, great, dearly departed John Hurt, I started digging to his filmography in a very unscientific way. This one didn’t have great reviews, but it was John in a leading role (which is kind of rare for me—most of his standout stuff is as a scene-stealing supporting actor, ie: The Proposition, King Ralph, and of course Alien). Don’t get me wrong, he’s done a lot of leading roles, but this one struck me because, reading even the basic plot summary, it was clear that this was going to be a truly bizarre, unconventional and intriguing film, very un-Hollywood (which is good, because it’s not American). It’s about an upper-class author, fairly elitist in his disdain for popular culture, who suddenly becomes infatuated with a handsome young American teen idol, an actor in a string of dumb teen “romp” comedies (Jason Priestley, an actual Canadian teen idol at the time). He buys a TV and VCR, rents all the guy’s movies, starts reading all of the teen celebrity magazines he can find, learns everything he can about this guy, and flies to Long Island to contrive a “chance” meeting, to become his friend, and eventually to be his mentor, writing intelligent “arty” film scripts for him. But of course, he’s totally obsessed with the teen idol, and it gets into inappropriate territory—not super far in this movie, but definitely too far. Even on paper, I can’t describe how weird and intriguing this movie is. The way it’s written, we never really get to align ourselves with John Hurt, he’s too shrouded, too guarded, and too in denial of himself, sort of like Jasmine in Blue Jasmine. We feel bad for him, but we also wish he would just knock it off and put his energies elsewhere. We wish he could just get real with himself, but he can’t, so we just watch him go further down this really unhealthy venture, deceiving Jason Priestley in the totally far-fetched hopes that he’ll leave his career and his wife and run away with the old author. And the young teen idol and his wife aren’t around enough to really let us close either, although the wife character gets closest I think. Throughout it all, John Hurt gives the role every ounce of integrity and curiosity and humanity that he gave everything he ever did, so you really can’t look away, but it’s not satisfying. This is what I meant when I said it’s so un-Hollywood. The movie poster looks like it’s going for a feel-good comedy, but this is neither. It’s sort of in Lynch/Cronenberg/Egoyan territory but not at all like any of those—it looks like a facile, easy-listening Hollywood fluff piece in its cinematography, in its tone. But trust me, it isn’t. I’ll note that this is the same director of Owning Mahowny—Canadian director Richard Kwietniowski—but you’d never know it, not even from connecting thread of John Hurt, because they’re doing such different things in each movie. And you can tell it’s an offbeat Canadian movie by the subliminally disturbing presence of Maury Chaykin. Really, they should have marketed this to people who went to see The Adjuster, not Driving Miss Daisy. Either way, if by any chance you come across this one, do check it out, if you’re into watching John Hurt and Jason Priestley—and why wouldn’t you be?

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