She's So Lovely (1997)

Hard drinking, hard living Maureen totters around on high heels in search of her absentee husband Eddie. Eddie has been making himself scarce ever since Maureen got pregnant. This is obviously not a politically correct couple. They smoke, they fight, they hang around in dark, seedy bars, then stagger home to the fleabag hotel they call home. Maureen and Eddie are crazy in love, though, and quite possibly, just plain crazy.

*She's So Lovely* is a crazy movie. Penned some two decades ago by the late indie film pioneer John Cassavetes, and directed by his son Nick Cassavetes, *She's So Lovely* (originally titled *She's Delovely*) is filled with incomprehensible characters who do incomprehensible things without apology or explanation. Maureen (Robin Wright Penn) and Eddie (Sean Penn) don't even understand themselves -- all they know, all they need to know, is that they love each other truly and madly.

When Eddie attempts to make sense of his irrational life, he launches into strange ruminations that lead him into genuine madness. And when he discovers that, during one of his absences, Maureen has been roughed up by a neighbor, he really goes off the deep end, dragging *She's So Lovely* right along with him. Eddie spends ten years in a mental institution, only to discover, when he's released, that he's in an entirely different movie.

Maureen has abandoned her urban lowlife ways and settled into suburban housewife mode with her successful husband Joey (John Travolta), and three daughters (one of whom is Eddie's). Despite the veneer of apparent normalcy, Maureen makes no secret of the fact that she still loves Eddie with most of her heart. Joey, in his own way as volatile and insensible as Eddie, sets up a confrontation -- Maureen will have to choose between Joey and the kids and Eddie.

In any other movie, it would be pretty obvious what Maureen's choice must be. But She's So lovely isn't any other movie. Maureen expects nothing less than acceptance of her choices, however illogical or immoral they might seem. The right thing to do is what feels right to her, and that might change from moment to moment. The same goes for this movie, which asks only two things of an audience -- suspend judgment, and enjoy the ride. It's an amoral sentiment that, back when this movie was written, would have been more or less accepted. Nowadays, however, it seems outdated and quaint, especially in movies, where snap moral judgments are all but demanded by characters who are obviously right or wrong, good or bad, and have the soundtrack music to prove it. Certainly, few films would dare to demand that Maureen, Eddie and Joey -- hard cases who make their own choices harder -- be accepted for who they are. These are the kind of people who, in 1997, would end up on a daytime talk show -- "My wife still loves her crazy ex" -- seeking public approval of their alternative lifestyles. Perhaps the most likable thing about Maureen and Eddie is that they don't need anyone's approval -- they only need each other.

*She's So Lovely* doesn't quite exist in 1997, or any other year, anyway. It's a fable, an oddly charming little tale of unbounded, undying, uncritical love that has no concern for consequences. The main pleasure of *She's So Lovely* is its complete unpredictability -- you never know what anyone in this quirky movie is going to do or say at any time.

The performances are superb -- Penn's Eddie, bewildered and bedeviled, is almost tragic, a puppet controlled by his own heartstrings. Wright Penn's performance is raw, daring and reckless -- Maureen is as wrongheaded as she can be, having neither beauty nor brains, but she has an open heart. Travolta wrings a lot of hurt, anger and humor out of a small role, and Debi Mazar, Harry Dean Stanton and hKelsey Mulrooney (as Eddie's daughter Jeannie) are fine in supporting roles.

Fittingly, Gena Rowlands, who starred in many of John Cassavetes' films, and is mother to director Nick, has a small supporting role in this Cassavetes family film. A unique collaboration between father and son, written with a unique voice, and directed with style, h*She's So Lovely* is a witty, funny and unsentimental movie of romance without rhyme, reason or regret.