These are the eyes of disarray
Because I rarely read about movies before seeing them, my only clue about Come Early Morning was the DVD cover of a smiling Ashley headed for the waiting arms of Jeffrey Donovan under the tagline, “Before you fall in love, you need to love yourself.” One could read that several ways. Me? I imagined a fluff romantic comedy.
The comedy may be, well, not entirely lacking; but there is a good amount of romanticism, albeit not within the parameters of standard boy-meets-girl. This is about a woman with unfocused determination, good at her job as a building contractor but unskilled in personal relationships (romantic and familial), relying on booze to carry her through the hours when she’s not working or visiting aging relatives. It doesn’t paint her as an alcoholic (she doesn’t carry the trademark symptoms), but rather considers the threat of idle thought within someone whose mind is constantly running.
It’s set in a sleepy Arkansas town, which could be interpreted as a kind of prison, though I believe the picture is ignorant about the environment in ways that’d go unnoticed by anyone unfamiliar with rural life. Ashley’s Lucille — named after the song from when her father (Scott Wilson) dreamed of becoming a professional musician — is occasionally too detached for a country girl whose been in the same town all her life. She doesn’t know or ask questions about neighbors like Donovan’s relatives, or the folks at dad’s church who are virtual strangers. After thirty years in this backwater, she’d surely know them by name and reputation.
Which is surprising, because Come Early Morning was written and directed by Joey Lauren Adams, a native of Little Rock. Better known for acting in Kevin Smith movies (watching her recite all that purple dialog in Chasing Amy broke my heart), Adams made her debut behind the camera here and the lack of experience is occasionally evident. Despite the deficiencies of the screenplay, Ashley is excellent and the country music soundtrack provides a perfect backdrop.
A David Mamet fan, I’m trying to remember why I never got around to Edmond until now. It probably had something to do with Stuart Gordon directing. Gordon started well enough with his balls-to-the-walls horror satires Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), but what followed was dross, and Mamet seemed a disastrous detour from that shaky oeuvre.
I shouldn’t have given Gordon that much thought. This is Mamet from start to finish, and for good or ill depending on where you stand. I’ve rarely met people who are on the fence about Mamet, it’s generally a hate-him-or-love-him deal. I’d fall in with the latter, even though I can appreciate why his detractors aren’t enthused.
Like Come Early Morning, Edmond is a quest film, a character searching for answers, for communication, for love and its sundry meanings, for ways to exist as a simple person in a complicated world. After seeing the film I scanned some online comments and found that many people shortchanged it as an exposé of white racism and sexism. True, Mamet’s jittery titular character, played with expert neurosis by William H. Macy, overcomes his middle-class reserve to unleash inner demons and wreak havoc on blacks and women. There comes a point when his sexual preference falls under question, a repressed man coming out of the closet. But these shape the foundation for a portrait of isolation, of a voice unheard, of civilization engulfed in hazy personal pursuits at the cost of social interaction.
Like most Mamet films, the cast is uniformly excellent. Rebecca Pidgeon (Mrs. Mamet in real life) plays Edmond’s wife, her fine body available but no longer attracting him. He goes to exotic dancers, quarrels over the price of a lap dance with Denise Richards, quarrels over a ten dollar masturbation session with Ling Bai, quarrels over a $250 massage parlor fuck with Mena Suvari. He has feverish existential discussions with an equally frustrated Joe Mantegna and cocktail waitress Julia Stiles. He has violent confrontations with Dulé Hill’s street hustler and Lionel Mark Smith’s pimp. He evolves into Bokeem Woodbine’s jailhouse concubine. With the right kind of eyes, it could make a fascinating companion piece to Eyes Wide Shut, the exploration of fallen white men distracted into submission, whose boners have been flattened under the weight of expectation.