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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Accidental Tourist (1988)



Reviews and Comments

The Accidental Tourist is a magnificently crafted black comedy. It is poignant, subtle of wit, knowing of the heart, and can both sympathize with and laugh at its characters. William Hurt plays the lead, and it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role. Hurt turns in a terrific performance; he wins our sympathy without questions, yet looking at his actions in the film, there aren't very many occasions where he does anything that deserves it. In fact when he helps a friend deal with a personal problem in a meaningful and useful way, it's subtlely jarring, as it does not flow with the characterization of him we've come to understand. Yet it's important to the film that we sympathize with him; otherwise there would be little reason to care about how he changes.

The film is about the process of healing. It's a comedy, and it's very funny, but not in the conventional way. When the movie opens, we are introduced to a couple who can't seem to cope with the death of their son; the wife (Kathleen Turner) breaks their marriage off with a speech that should strike any sensible individual as sound reasons for sticking together. The film explores the husband's pain and the distance he has put between himself and the world around him by suppressing his feelings. Sounds hilarious, right? It is. Not throughout, perhaps, and certainly not obviously or conventionally. It's one of the subtlest black comedies I've seen, and in an age where movies present all their depth on a silver platter, it's easy to watch the movie passively and miss it all.

For those alert enough to explore its artistry and patient enough to savor its leisurely place, The Accidental Tourist is a more than rewarding experience. The writing and acting are of particular note. Co-star Geena Davis (an actress with one of the broadest ranges of acting quality I've ever seen) was at the top of her form and more than deserved her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She had more screen time than the higher-billed Kathleen Turner; perhaps it should have been the Best Actress award instead -- but at least she was recognized for her outstanding work.