White Palace

  • 1990
  • Movie
  • R
  • Comedy, Drama, Romance

Having displayed his yuppie sexual angst in 1989 in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE and BAD INFLUENCE, James Spader continues to suffer as his inability to put a personal tragedy behind him leads him to a cheap bar and then to Susan Sarandon's bed in WHITE PALACE. Sarandon plays Nora, a waitress in the title's greasy St. Louis burger joint. She lives in a rundown...read more

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Having displayed his yuppie sexual angst in 1989 in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE and BAD INFLUENCE, James Spader continues to suffer as his inability to put a personal tragedy behind him leads him to a cheap bar and then to Susan Sarandon's bed in WHITE PALACE. Sarandon plays Nora, a

waitress in the title's greasy St. Louis burger joint. She lives in a rundown area called "Dogtown," while Spader, as Max, dwells amid the upwardly mobile Jewish middle class. Max spends his working days in a towering downtown highrise, where he seems to have the same job many movie yuppies do,

earning large sums of cash for gazing wistfully at the spectacular view outside his tastefully furnished, high-tech office. But Max's real occupation is his preoccupation with his late wife. Since her death in a car accident, Max has been obsessed with order and control in every aspect of his

life. He can't even loosen up at a bachelor party for his buddy Neil (Jason Alexander). While his friends get smashed and ogle the obligatory exotic dancer, Max leaves to return to the White Palace, where he had earlier purchased burgers for the bash. It seems some of the burgers are missing, and

the righteously indignant Max is determined to get a refund. After a terse exchange with Nora, the waitress, Max gets his money and returns to the party just as it is winding down. Needled by Neil for his button-down existence, Max stops at a sleazy bar on the way home, and there finds Nora,

relaxing after her shift. Though Nora's attempts at friendly banter are initially rebuffed, a couple of scotches take their toll on Max and he begins to warm up to her, especially when she reveals her own tragedy--the death of her son. She takes the wobbly Max home and tucks him in the sofa-bed,

later to treat him to a steamy wakeup call. Soon Max is spending all his free time, and then some, with Nora, deep in the heart of Dogtown. Curiosity quickly builds among his friends about his "mystery woman," while Nora chafes at being Max's backstreet girl, even as she dreads the impact exposure

might have on their relationship. Nora's fears prove well-based when Max invites her to accompany him and his mother (Renee Taylor) to a Thanksgiving feast. Nora downs vodkas and tells everybody where to get off, finally forcing a hasty retreat. Nora then leaves town, moving to New York to live

with her eccentric, Tarot-reading sister (Eileen Brennan), leaving behind a note urging Max to forget about her. Fat chance.

Sarandon is at her best playing a diamond in the rough, but here she is merely rough. She's keeps the filthiest house on the planet and is rarely seen without a butt hanging out of the corner of her mouth. These quirks register as arbitrary traits, imposed rather than growing out of the character.

WHITE PALACE works best when it's just being an offbeat romantic comedy. Spader seems properly worshipful, though his ardor seems more directed at Sarandon herself that the character she is playing. But the film hobbles itself with its insistence on wringing big statements out of a little romance,

as if a simple younger man, older woman love story is inadequate for a feature-length film. Nora can't merely be older than Max. She also has to be crude, lewd, and tattooed. Max can't merely be shy and retiring, he has to be monstrously neurotic. And both have to have a haunting tragedy in their

pasts. Under the direction of Luis Mandoki (GABY, A TRUE STORY), the film is simultaneously overplotted and underdeveloped, with the deep, dark secrets registering as annoying clutter rather than character exploration. When a movie needs a psychic to unravel its exposition, as WHITE PALACE does,

it can't help but signal deep trouble in the script department. Sarandon, as she has been in so many other indifferent films, becomes the main reason to see WHITE PALACE. There is something uncanny about her ability to effortlessly dominate a film by taking a character, even one as sketchy as

Nora, and transform her into a vital creation. She winds up holding together a film that is otherwise too knotted up to ever decide quite what it wants to be. (Sexual situations, nudity, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1990
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Having displayed his yuppie sexual angst in 1989 in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE and BAD INFLUENCE, James Spader continues to suffer as his inability to put a personal tragedy behind him leads him to a cheap bar and then to Susan Sarandon's bed in WHITE PALACE… (more)

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