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VIOLETS ARE BLUE. Directed by Jack Fisk; written by Naomi Foner; produced by Marykay Powell for Columbia. Starring Sissy Spacek and Kevin Kline. Rated PG-13. (Some mild profanity and little discreet—mostly male!—nudity).


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Saying a movie is unremarkable isn't exactly a terrible pan. Lots of movies never get that good.

But when a picture sports stars like Kline and Spacek, expectations run a little higher than usual. So while Violets Are Blue is a pleasant enough movie, it's a disappointment. Predictable and slight (not even a full hour and a half), it's just so ... well, unremarkable.

Gussie (Spacek) and Henry (Kline) are high school sweethearts as the movie opens. But circumstances and conflicting career goals burst their dream of living happily ever after together.

Years later, however, they're given an apparent second chance. Gussie, a famous photojournalist, comes home for a vacation only to find that Henry never left. Things are a little different now, though. Henry is married (to Ruth, finely played by Bonnie Bedelia).

The story itself is rather sweet, and could have been compelling. But for several reasons, it's not. Bedelia is the main problem—she's too good for her part as the wife who "can't compete" with the worldly presence of Gussie. We're supposed to want her husband to desert her? Sorry, I can't manage it.

The screenplay also beats to death the idea of Gussie's regret over not having any children. Henry has a fine son, but she "doesn't even have a cat." This is a valid point to make about a single woman haunted by the biological alarm clock. But instead of letting the circumstances, and maybe an anguished look or two, tell the story, the plot has babies pushed at Gussie from all directions. Both her mother and Ruth, of all people, refer to the children they assume she'll some day have.

Eventually, I don't feel for her loneliness any longer. I just get tired of hearing about it.

The bottom line in a romantic movie like this is, of course, the relationship between the two leads. Here is where you need excitement, a sense of danger—in short, passion. But while Spacek and Kline look fine together, and don't really put you off, the pairing is basically ... unremarkable.

Both actors are enormously talented, and have given some exceptional performances. But I suppose we can't expect a Carrie or a Coal Miner's Daughter every time out from Spacek. In Violets Are Blue, she's believable and generally sympathetic (at least for a while). But the part isn't worthy of her talents.

Although I enjoyed Kline in The Big Chill, I've liked him best when he's not playing a real everyday person—such as his inspired cartoon of the Pirate King in the Pirates of Penzance and the charming madman in Sophie's Choice. Here, his inescapable, wry sense of humor gives Henry more life than he would have had in another actor's portrayal. But the character is still just not very interesting.

Violets Are Blue provides some pretty scenery of the eastern seacoast. (It's set in Ocean City, Maryland, and I love Ruth and Henry's house across the water from the amusement park.) But, except for Bedelia's performance, it never takes us any deeper than this attractive surface. If it were a novel and I needed something to read for an afternoon at the beach, I might choose it. But I can't recommend it as a movie.

May 14, 1986

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