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A Previous Engagement Reviews

The bright spot in writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin's clichéd comedy about middle-aged craziness is Juliet Stevenson, who brings grit and poignancy to the role of a woman confronted with the possibility that she still loves the man she left 25 years earlier. English-born librarian Julia Reynolds (Stevenson) and her American husband, insurance adjuster Jack (Daniel Stern), have raised two grown daughters and built a comfortable life in Seattle. Although the whole family usually vacations with her sister, this year Juliet persuaded Jack that they should take once-in-a-lifetime trip to scenic Malta. What she doesn't say is that she and her first love, Alex Belmont, enjoyed an enchanted sojourn there; overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of their relationship, they parted ways but made a mutual promise to return in 25 years and meet at their favorite cafe. Alex (Tcheky Karyo) and Julia's reunion gets off to a rocky start, and the arrival of both self-centered Reynolds daughters makes it worse: Moody Jenny (Claire Brosseau) is nursing a broken heart and toying with a new boy (Simon Woods), while sensible Jill (Elizabeth Whitmere) doesn't see why she should have to languish at home while Jenny gets a free trip to Malta just for being sulky. Between the bickering and everyone's assumption that just because she's on vacation doesn't mean she'll stop cooking and doing the laundry, Julia is almost ready to leave with Alex. She has second thoughts when she discovers that his much-younger girlfriend (Kate Miles) is along for the trip, just as Alex concludes that he really is madly in love with Julia. And the wacky complications ensue… Even Stevenson, a singularly accomplished and versatile actress, can't do much with Julia's early scenes, in which she's forced to dither around like a complete idiot. But once the plot gets underway, she manages to bring a surprising depth of feeling to a character haunted by the thought that she made the mistake of a lifetime when she was too young to even imagine the consequences. When Alex says that Julia's children and husband have no idea who she really is, her retort vibrates with real bitterness: "That's what you do when you're a mother -- you lie and lie and lie. If people knew who their mothers really were, the world would end." A little more of that would have gone a long way to offsetting the film's sticky sweetness.