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By Ron Wells | August 16, 1999

For his sophomore outing as director, actor John Turturro has chosen a tale of romance and art, where a writer’s work and art are not so easily separated, all set in a historical world of the theatre. It’s too bad someone already beat him to it.
Tuccio (John Turturro) is the resident playwright for a sometimes-struggling theatre company in New York City after the turn of the century. The company is let my noted actress, Rachel (Turturro’s real wife, Kathryn Borowitz) in a theatre owned by Astergourd (Beverly D’Angelo) and Pallenchio (Donal McCann). Astergourd is not interested in Tuccio’s new play, “Illuminata”, but when an actor in the current production falls ill onstage, Tuccio announces to the audience that he is about to preview his unfinished work. It doesn’t go over well, particularly with unhinged stage critic, Bevalaqua (Christopher Walken, giving definition to the phrase, “drama queen”). Rival actress Celimene (Susan Sarandon) sees an opportunity to seduce Tuccio and lure him to her own company. Half of the theatre company seems to sleep with the other half. Misunderstanding happen, melodrama ensues. Tuccio needs a new ending if he’s going to re-launch his play, and he’d better look to his own relationships and to Rachel for inspiration.
This film differs from that other one that came out eight months ago in that Tuccio must find inspiration not from romance, but the aspects of love in a mature relationship. Strangely, Turturro severely underplays his role, in stark contracts to nearly everyone else in the cast, except for Borowitz, his wife. She holds the heart of the film, and thankfully has the talent and bearing to pull of the hardest role in the film. Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t quite gel. The picture stays too close to its theatrical roots, the play originally written by co-screenwriter Brandon Cole. It’s also much too respectful of the “theater”. “Shakespeare in Love” at least knew when to mock itself. Tuccio’s only problems seem to be a personal rigidity and the inability of people to understand his genius. A little of the demented charm (and dementia) the actor displayed for the Coen bros. movies would have gone a long way.

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