May 08, 1989 12:00 PM

Jeff Bridges, Alice Krige

No sex, no violence, no gratuitous obscenity—this clearly isn’t a teen movie. No neat resolutions to every problem, no stereotyped characters, no going hand-in-hand into the sunset—it can’t be a standard romance. Here, saints be praised, is that rarest of Hollywood commodities, a literate, evocative movie that seems made expressly for adults.

Bridges plays a shrink with a rare sense of humor. He concedes, for instance, that he’s “weird”: “That’s why I became a psychiatrist—for the company.” His marriage to a narcissistic supermodel, played by Farrah Fawcett, has just ended, and he is dissolving in insecurity and self-pity when he meets Alice (Chariots of Fire) Krige, whose husband has committed suicide. Bridges and Krige each come into the relationship with two children from their previous marriage and a standard adult set of neuroses. The plot calmly pursues the obvious question: Can love conquer all, or can it at least conquer enough?

This is hardly a revolutionary subject. Aspects of it have been pursued in such comedies as Irreconcilable Differences, Table for Five and Starting Over, which was directed by Alan Pakula (and written by James Brooks). Pakula also directed this film and wrote it himself, treating it not as a comedy with serious overtones but as a true-life adventure—full of realistically difficult times, with a fair share of laughs for those who have the resiliency and wit to seek them out. One of his more pointed lines has Bridges’s beloved ex-mother-in-law noting with a sigh that Fawcett, her daughter, “is in love with mystery, and marriage isn’t very good for that.”

Frances Sternhagen, as the mother-in-law, is part of a small army of precisely effective supporting actors who enhance the film. Another is Linda Lavin, who lectures Krige on her experiences with the frailties of male sexuality and muses, “Sometimes I think all that terrific male equipment just hangs there by a thread.” As Krige’s children, Drew Barrymore and Lukas Haas succeed at seeming both appropriately suspicious toward Bridges and desperate for a father. Even Patricia and Christopher Murray (Pakula’s stepchildren), while they have only brief roles as patients in a group therapy session run by Bridges, use their moments to great advantage, quarreling over whether men or women constitute the more oppressive gender.

Fawcett seems underemployed most of the time; all she has to do is look glamorous, which is hardly that much of a challenge. But Bridges makes a tough idea work—he has to be weak and thoughtless occasionally yet come out of it as a likable guy. And Krige maintains a convincing mixture of skepticism and passion flashing through her eyes.

There are some false moments. Bridges engages in a maudlin drunken conversation with a too cute dog in one of them. In another he seems to have a hard time bringing himself around to laying this cliché on Krige: “Sweetheart, you can’t spend your life in bondage to your guilt.” Most of the time, the movie stays all but perfectly on target. And at the end, while the main characters have managed to arrange their situations, they have hardly solved all their problems. At one point Bridges, whose children are living with Fawcett, talks to his little daughter, Heather Lilly, on the phone. He tries to reassure her that he’ll be there whenever she needs him. “But I need you every night,” she says, and Bridges’s pain is palpable. This is grown-up life, take it or leave it. (PG-13)

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