In a grandly rotting Palm Beach mansion, one covered with ancient mossy vines (not just on the outside — on the inside), a young man and a young woman clasp hands, stare at each other with deep meaning, and dance. As they step and glide through the ghostly decrepit room, flirtation is transformed into desire, and desire into dreams. This, you see, is no ordinary pas de deux, no accidental dance. For it is the destiny of this particular young couple to…what? To fall in love? Not quite. To part ways and wish they had fallen in love? Not exactly. Let’s just say that it’s their destiny to be…destined.
The young man, an artist raised in a fishing village along Florida’s Gulf Coast, had a boyhood encounter with fate in the form of an escaped prisoner (Robert De Niro) to whom he was kinder than he needed to be. Now it’s the 1980s, and he is about to be plucked from obscurity and given a chance to showcase his lyrical, heart’s-eye drawings at a famous Manhattan gallery. The young woman, too, is destined to journey to New York City. Only there, you see, can she become truly fabulous, wearing dazzling clothes, meeting rich men, and continuing her ambiguous dance of desire with the young artiste. Love, if not exactly for sale, now comes at quite a price.
Great Expectations (Twentieth Century Fox) is a fractured folly of extravagant art gestures, a Hollywood-cocktail-party version of literary updating. In virtually every scene, the movie declares its lofty intentions. It wants to be about the impossibility of love, about the siren song of visual beauty, about the call of ambition and, of course, destiny. What it isn’t about is characters who appear to be occupying a planet remotely like to the one you and I are stuck on. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (A Little Princess), from a very loose adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel (the screenplay is by Mitch Glazer, who also modernized Dickens in the script he cowrote for Scrooged), Great Expectations, in the wake of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, is proof that if you try repackaging the classics for the youth market in an era of MTV dislocation, what you get, in essence, is postmodern Cliffs Notes with an alt-rock soundtrack.