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Cinema: Dog-Eared Doings THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST

3 minute read
Richard Schickel

Edward is a dog, a sad-eyed but otherwise lively Welsh corgi. When he is upset he makes trouble of a colorful, forgivable kind. Macon Leary (William Hurt) is his master, also sad-eyed, but with no redeeming manners or habits. Early in this lugubrious recounting of his struggle against clinical depression, one begins counting the minutes between dog cutaways. By the end, one is praying for them.

This is not to say that Macon’s gloom is without just cause. A year before The Accidental Tourist begins, his beloved son has been killed in a particularly senseless crime. As the film opens, his wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner) walks out on him because his grief has made him so deeply withdrawn that he cannot help her bear her sorrow. Her departure leaves Macon with his dismal career as a writer of travel books for people who hate traveling; with the dubious consolations of his own family, a sister and two brothers who are as joylessly guarded and compulsive in their behavior as he is; and, of course, the excellent but increasingly (and understandably) snappish company of Edward.

Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), who insinuates herself into Macon’s life by becoming Edward’s trainer, does wonders for both of them. Doggy learns to heel, master learns to lighten up. Or so we are supposed to believe, though it is very hard to tell the difference between William Hurt sad and William Hurt happy, so monotonous is his performance of a monosyllabic role.

There should have been a dramatic crux: Macon’s desertion of Muriel for an attempted reconciliation with his wife. But the tone and dynamics of this scene are indistinguishable from the rest of a film that looks as if it had been shot in a brownout. Depression, obviously, is not amusing. But depressives, as the history of humor from Mark Twain to S.J. Perelman proves, can be. Anyway, it should be possible to analyze an illness without falling prey to it.

In the end, everything about this glum and self-important adaptation of Anne Tyler’s upper-cute novel is dim. Director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) knows how to get Edward on and off screen effectively, but he is far less witty and adroit with his nominal stars. Dim too is the judgment of the New York Film Critics Circle, which last week named Tourist best English- language picture of the year.

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