Friday, November 02, 2012

White Palace

Thinking about "Sex Lies and Videotape" got me thinking about a movie that James Spader made a couple of years after "White Palace." I saw this movie in the theater when it was first released. It's not a great movie but it stars Spader and Susan Sarandon, two great actors and this scene here demonstrates their skills

The characters, Nora and Max had met briefly when Max returned to Nora's White Palace, where she works as a cashier. He was bitchy to her because he didn't get the burgers he paid for and she was bitchy back at him. In this scene it's later the same night and they both happen to be in the same bar. He doesn't recognize her at first but she recognizes him and offers to buy him a drink as a way to "'pass the peace pipe." She then tries to seduce him, with no success. At one point he says to her "why don't you get your hand off my thigh" and she says "my hand's not on your thigh."

It took me years to figure out what her hand was on. I know, it seems obvious now, but somehow I was baffled by this when I first saw it - "how could she think her hand is on his thigh when it isn't? What's wrong with her? Is this supposed to indicate how drunk she is?" I asked myself, idiotically.

I went to see the movie because I wanted to see the beautiful James Spader again and I was intrigued by the older woman - younger man scenario, although at the time I was right around Max's age. In a later scene Nora tells Max her age: "I'm 43, I'll be 44 in December." And I was like "wow 43 - do people still have sex at that advanced age?" Well, not exactly but practically.

This movie was made before the term "cougar" was invented, so it was just weird and rare for a 43 year old woman to get together with a 27 year old man. And that's a big part of the plot, although it's also a class issue as well - he has an office job in an ad agency and she's a waitress at a "White Castle" like diner.

During her attempted seduction Nora deduces that Max is "feeling sorry for himself" which he denies, but it's exactly what his friend, played by Jason Alexander, said to him a few scenes earlier.

Fun fact: Spader and Alexander would reunite on Seinfeld when Spader played "an angry recovering alcoholic who refuses to apologize to George for making fun of him."

Just as Max is leaving the bar, Nora gets him to admit that he's still in mourning for his dead wife Janey and then she reveals she has a dead child and they bond briefly over this, which sets up their eventual getting together.

But it is disturbing that Max and Nora's first sexual encounter happens while he's sleeping off a drunk on her sofa and she decides to fellate him while he's unconscious. Although once he regains consciousness he allows her to continue, it's still an uncomfortably rapey way to start off.

The script is weak at times, although it does have a decent denouement. I hate the soundtrack though - crass, on the nose and often just incredibly loud.

The most satisfying aspect of the movie is the couple's eventual commitment to stay together in spite of their differences and in spite of Max's idealization of his dead wife. Nora is so different from Janey that it helps him get over his idealization and he discovers that sometimes the person who is right for you doesn't match your ideal.