Precisely the kind of oddball-hybrid for which Orion Pictures was once famous, LOVE FIELD was the studio's first release following its declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent restructuring in 1992.
Lurene Hallett (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a ditzy sixties Dallas housewife who married her high-school sweetheart, Ray (Brian Kerwin), and who worships Jackie Kennedy, down to making her own knockoffs of Jackie's designer wardrobe and emulating her bouffant hairdo. The film opens on the day of
Kennedy's assassination, when Lurene just misses shaking the first lady's hand at Love Field because she's gone to retrieve a friend's (Peggy Rea) dropped purse. Subsequently determined to attend Kennedy's funeral--without knowing whether it will be in Washington or Massachusetts, and also without
her husband's permission--she sneaks away in the middle of the night to catch a Greyhound east.
On the bus she befriends a black man, Paul Cater (Dennis Haysbert), and his young daughter Jonell (Stephanie McFadden), who are traveling to Philadelphia. What she doesn't know is that Cater, who identifies himself as "Johnson," is on the run after snatching his daughter from the abusive state
home where she wound up after her mother died. Seeing bruises on Jonell, Lurene assumes the worst and calls the FBI from a bus station after their bus is involved in an accident. Almost as quickly realizing her mistake, she helps Cater and Jonell escape in a stolen car and travels with them.
En route to Virginia and the home of Mrs. Enright (Louise Latham), the mother of a friend of Lurene's, their car breaks down just outside of town. While Lurene goes for help, Cater runs afoul of some racists, who beat him up. After Lurene tends his wounds, the couple make love. The next day, they
borrow Enright's car for the last leg of their trip. Lurene goes to meet her husband at a prearranged motel outside of Washington. When he beats her, she escapes with Cater's help, but they are finally captured at a police roadblock. After a year in prison, Cater is reunited with now-divorced
Lurene and his now-thriving daughter.
A good rule of thumb for screenwriters might be to avoid using the Kennedy assassination in any way, shape or form for the next decade or so. In the case of LOVE FIELD, produced in 1990 from a screenplay by Don Roos (SINGLE WHITE FEMALE), the assassination functions as an unwieldy motivational
device to bring about the transformation of Lurene's character. She abandons the comfortable liberalism of being a Kennedy supporter for a real activism sparked by her involvement with Cater, realizing that, Kennedy or no Kennedy, not much of substance has changed for Blacks in America. It's a
nice idea, but it doesn't entirely work; despite Cater's assurances to the contrary, there is something more than passing strange about a woman who has made a life's obsession out of Jackie Kennedy. And it requires more range than Pfeiffer, or anyone else for that matter, can muster to effect a
credible transition from a complete ditz in Kennedy drag to an intelligent individual.
On the upside, director Jonathan Kaplan (THE ACCUSED, HEART LIKE A WHEEL) displays an impressive talent for dramatically defining the ways in which institutions we have created to protect ourselves can come to oppress and degrade us. Thus, for Kaplan, Lurene doesn't need the Kennedy assassination
to change her character, and he wisely downplays it whenever possible. It's enough for him and the film that she's a white woman traveling alone with a black man in 1963. The meat of the drama is thus the way in which two basically decent people become hunted outcasts for exercising perfectly
reasonable rights--of a man to care for his daughter, and of a woman to travel with whomever she wants.
Purged of her character's ditziness, Pfeiffer is quite fine as an outlaw woman most men would want on their side. Though LOVE FIELD is a more serious film, Pfeiffer's performance demonstrates that she could just have easily played either Thelma or Louise, of which Lurene is a strange melding.
Haysbert (who replaced actor Eriq LaSalle, who replaced Denzel Washington) is uncannily right for the character and for the time, bringing a real tenderness to his scenes with eight-year-old newcomer McFadden. He helps make LOVE FIELD a compelling drama, despite its umpteenth flogging of the
Kennedy myth. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Precisely the kind of oddball-hybrid for which Orion Pictures was once famous, LOVE FIELD was the studio's first release following its declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent restructuring in 1992. Lurene Hallett (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a ditzy sixties Da… (more)