To call a Horton Foote drama low-key may be redundant, but it's particularly true in the case of this adaptation of one of his plays, set (as usual) in the turn-of-the-century Texas of his own upbringing.
Horace Robedeaux (Tim Guinee) has lived alone since his widowed mother Corella (Stockard Channing) remarried Pete Davenport (Sam Shepard). Davenport took Corella and Horace's younger sister Lily Dale (Mary Stuart Masterson) back with him to Houston, but felt that 12-year-old Horace was best left
to make his own living. Now 19, Horace receives an invitation to visit from his mother.
Horace arrives in Houston to an indifferent welcome from his self-absorbed sister. His mother invited Horace at this time only because her husband was to be away on business for several weeks. When Davenport returns early, he is openly unhappy to find Horace in his house. But the young man becomes
ill and spends several weeks feverish and unconscious on the living room sofa.
Angered by Davenport's intimations that he is faking his illness to get free room and board, Horace tries to leave on several occasions but is still too weak. Lily Dale and Horace argue; she accuses him of living in the past and he states how much he despises Davenport. Considering marriage, Lily
Dale asks Corella how babies are made. Corella tells her only that she'll find out when she's married, but that childbirth is so painful that she should avoid it. Horace returns home to take a new job.
Aside from his Oscar-winning script for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), which was adapted from Harper Lee's novel, plot has never been a strong point of the screenplays of Horton Foote (TENDER MERCIES; 1918; THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, the most notable film from LILY DALE director Peter Masterson). But
even by Foote's standard, LILY DALE is exceptionally vague. Why does Davenport hate Horace so much, a hatred which apparently began when this apparently inoffensive youth was a boy of 12? Does he regard him as the heir of his father, a scholarly lawyer who succumbed to alcoholism? Davenport is
stodgily anti-alcohol and anti-intellectual, boasting of the fact that he's never read a book; but there's no evidence that he even knew his wife's first husband. And why is this drama, which centers on this battle between these two men, named for Horace's sister? (The part gets top billing for
Masterson, who is at least 10 years too old for the role of this teenaged flibbertigibbet.) Are we supposed to presume that there are sexual tensions in the Davenport household? Davenport never speaks his mind; Corella is largely afraid to; and what's on Lily Dale's mind generally isn't worth
Foote's usual strength is characterization, but this adaptation fails there as well. Sam Shepard is stolid at best, Masterson merely dislikable (and uninterestingly so). As a mother and son unable to resume a relationship that was taken away from them, Stockard Channing and Tim Guinee are
appealing and able; the script's failure to tell us more about them is its chief failing. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG
- Review: To call a Horton Foote drama low-key may be redundant, but it's particularly true in the case of this adaptation of one of his plays, set (as usual) in the turn-of-the-century Texas of his own upbringing. Horace Robedeaux (Tim Guinee) has lived alone sinc… (more)