MEN DON'T LEAVE is a four-hanky family melodrama, but it's also an unexpectedly poignant slice of life, the best film of its type since THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST.
Lange plays recently widowed Beth Macauley, besieged by debt and forced forced to sell the family home over the objections of her teenage son, Chris (O'Donnell) and the younger Matt (Korsmo). Relocating to an apartment in Baltimore, she takes a job as assistant manager of a gourmet food market
run by the acerbic Lisa (Bates). Chris almost immediately becomes involved with an "older" woman, Jody (Cusack), and Matt takes up with Winston (Carrier), a knife-wielding schoolyard terror who steals VCRs and sells them to a video porn freak for pocket change. It's Beth, though, who has the
hardest time readjusting. Despite her budding relationship with Charles (Howard), she must, like Blanche DuBois, depend on the kindness of strangers.
MEN, like THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, isn't really about its big crises. Instead, it's about how people live from one day to the next, and the hard choices and compromises they make to survive. A fine screenplay by Barbara Benedek is painstakingly directed by Paul Brickman, who elicits meticulous
ensemble performances from his cast and maintains a precarious emotional balance between the script's laughter and tears. Visually, MEN DON'T LEAVE is as expressive as any film in recent years, its subtle shifts from light to darkness richly conveying the inner states and outer realities of its
characters. Lange complained in interviews at the time of MEN's release that Brickman kept pushing her to give a more comic performance despite what she saw as the script's straight dramatic focus. However, it is clear that what Brickman was after was a feeling of unpredictability in the
performances that proves to be one of the film's greatest assets. Newcomers O'Donnell and Korsmo struggle to establish their authority as actors just as their characters struggle for identity. The rest of the more experienced cast play interestingly against type. Howard, best known for more
physical roles in films like FULL METAL JACKET, and Cusack, who added ditzy comic relief to BROADCAST NEWS, WORKING GIRL, and SAY ANYTHING, find themselves in unfamiliar territory--he as a sensitive, intelligent artist, and she as a woman of depth and compassion--but turn this unfamiliarity to
their advantage. The overall result is a film that is refreshingly realistic and spontaneous, a work of consummate craft from all involved.
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