A pleasant cast brightens HARD PROMISES, an otherwise overly familiar small-town romantic comedy stronger on basic warmth and decency than sparkling wit.
Joey Coalter (William Petersen) has been married to Chris (Sissy Spacek) for 12-1/2 years. But it's a marriage that has been anything but conventional. Chris estimates that Joey has only actually been home one-quarter of the time they've been married. For the rest, Joey has indulged his insatiable
wanderlust and unquenchable thirst for adventure, travelling around the world and working at odd jobs, while Chris has stayed at home, teaching at the local school and raising their daughter Beth (Olivia Burnette). The arrangement suits Joey fine, and to Beth he's a hero. But to Chris, he's
strictly a heel.
That's why she has finally divorced him to marry stable-but-dull businessman Walter Humphry (Brian Kerwin). In a last bid to keep her parents together, Beth sends Joey an invitation to the wedding, which reaches him somewhere on the prairie, where he is regaling fellow cowhands with tall tales of
tawny Tahitian beauties. Joey drops everything and heads home to stop the pending nuptials, but, as the cashier at the local bake shop warns him, it's going to take more than a box of Chris's favorite muffins to smooth things over this time. Well, not much more. In fact, the muffins work fine to
lure Chris into a pre-wedding-night fling with Joey, even if they don't do much to patch up the rocky marriage.
But generally, HARD PROMISES is commendably sensible and sensitive about the affairs of the heart. It also updates some of the conventions of the screwball comedy besides letting Chris sow a few final wild oats before marrying Walt, who spends his own pre-wedding-night passed out in a bar. In most
films of this type, the woman gets engaged to a decent dullard (Ralph Bellamy spent much of his early career playing this character) as a ploy to win back her straying, likable rogue of an ex-husband (often played by Cary Grant). Chris, however, has no such ulterior motive. She really does love
Walt, who really is a likable guy. She also really loves Joey. She just doesn't want to be married to him anymore and be left home alone while he wanders around the world.
The complexities of these adult relationships take their toll mainly on Beth, who becomes sullen and withdrawn as it becomes apparent that her plot to keep her parents together isn't going to work. However, nobody emerges scarred for life. Instead, a staple of relationship films in recent years,
everybody gets to learn something: Chris learns that Joey's still-potent charms aren't enough to sway her from her determination to have a stable homelife; Walt learns not to expect Chris to put Joey entirely out of her heart; Joey learns that he's just not the marrying kind; and Beth learns that
she doesn't have to lose her father just because her mother has a new husband. It helps that director Martin Davidson (THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH) manages to make this play more like a breezy country-and-western ballad than the cinematic group therapy session suggested above. The cast helps even more.
William Petersen's High Horse Films produced HARD PROMISES and, despite Spacek's top billing, this is really his show. While he may never rate with the likes of Nicholson, Beatty and Pacino as screen-hunk superstars go, Petersen (TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA, MANHUNTER) is completely at home in modest
films like this, where effort and easy likability count for more than charisma. Spacek, on the other hand, still has charisma to burn, but she's also enough of a team player to give an enjoyable ensemble performance here as the kind of strong-headed, big-hearted woman any man would be proud to vie
for. Kerwin (MURPHY'S ROMANCE, TORCH SONG TRILOGY) is similarly solid as the man who loves her enough to let her go and Burnette is a natural charmer as the daughter. Strong support comes especially from the reliable Mare Winningham, as Spacek's salty best friend, Peter McNichol, as her comically
nerdy lawyer, and Amy Wright, amusing in a too-small part as an eccentric member of the wedding party.
Together, they can't quite overcome the tedious telemovie thinness of Jule Selbo's screenplay, but they do make HARD PROMISES a reasonably entertaining diversion. (Adult situations.)
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