Never Again

Never Again

USA, 2001. Rated R. 97 minutes.

Cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh, Caroline Aaron, Bill Duke, Sandy Duncan, Michael McKean, Suzanne Shepherd
Writer: Eric Schaeffer
Music: Amanda Kravat
Cinematographer: Thom Ostrowski
Producers: Eric Schaeffer, Terence Michael, Dawn Wolfrom, Bob Kravitz
Director: Eric Schaeffer


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

A   middle-aged woman dons a leather hood and a strap-on dildo, with the intention of possibly using it on a paunchy, bald man, who in turn speculates about having sex with "chix with dix," and winds up in the squalid apartment of a terrifying transsexual who looks like Michael McKean in drag--mostly because (s)he is Michael McKean in drag. Does anyone who doesn't regularly rent videos from the fetish shelves of the local porn emporium actively desire to see any of this? Probably not, and that's partly why the list of sexually explicit romantic comedies for fifty-somethings is shorter than the list of George Michael's best heterosexual experiences.

Never Again is refreshing simply by being what it is: a raunchy, daring, and, yes, touching romantic comedy about an age group that usually appears in romantic comedies as the wacky mom and overprotective dad, not as the love interests. Jeffrey Tambor (Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show) and Jill Clayburgh (a two-time Oscar-nominee for An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over) are few people's idea of a compelling leading couple. Yet a compelling leading couple they are, and their tremendous acting talents anchor a spotty but often hilarious story.

Fifty-four year old Christoper (Tambor), a pest exterminator by day and jazz pianist by night, fears commitment, sleeps with twenty-five year olds, and decides he might be gay once he begins experiencing sexual dysfunction. Fifty-four year old Grace (Clayburgh), a divorcee whose daughter has just left for school, hasn't had sex in seven years, and even her friends think she needs to get laid. Tambor and ClayburghBoth have sworn to never again fall in love… to never again allow their self-esteem to be determined by the blinking of the light on their answering machines, as Christopher puts it in one of the film's sharper monologues.

The words are the film's overriding strength. They were written by producer/director Eric Schaeffer, who met Tambor and Clayburgh when all three starred in a failed 1999 NBC sitcom called Everything's Relative. He decided then and there to develop a script for his co-stars, collaborating with them to help refine how their fifty-something characters should sound.

The words and the well-defined characters who speak them hurry the film past any and all romantic comedy implausibilities and Schaeffer's more dubious ideas. The knight in shining armor motif, for example, falls off its horse and lays in the dirt, trapped under its own weight, particularly at the end. The farcical shenanigans that result when the doorbell rings as Jill is trying on the strap-on threaten to get painful, but Schaeffer resolves them nicely and moves on.

Though the characters are sometimes forced into madcap situations for the sake of adding yuks ("American Pie for seniors," some have called it), the film works best when the protagonists are just being themselves. Tambor's acerbic witticisms throughout the film and Clayburgh's cutting humor (note in the opening scene how she mocks the fact that her ex-husband's new wife is of an age with their daughter) give the film its distinctive flavor. The supporting characters add a little spice, particularly Earl (Bill Duke) with his disgust at Christopher's messy personal life and Elaine (Caroline Aaron) and Natasha (Sandy Duncan) in their scene with Grace at the beauty salon, where their sexual frankness disgusts a twenty-something patron (Abigail Morgan). After complaining, she gets a lecture on who led the sexual revolution.

The point is that Christopher and Grace may be in their fifties, but they are no closer to figuring it all out than people who are much younger. If anything, establishing true intimacy becomes more difficult as people grow older, becoming more set in their ways. Who says wisdom comes with age? Are these characters immature, or are they just real?

Review © July 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 USA Films. All Rights Reserved.

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