Never Again

on July 12, 2002 by Sheri Linden
   Boy meets girl, boy screws up and loses girl, boy tries to win girl back in "Never Again," but writer-director Eric Schaeffer's variation on this familiar theme is that both boy and girl are 54 years old and have sworn off the notion of falling in love. Despite all its blunt sex talk and sexual situations--including a comic sequence involving a strap-on--at heart this is a story about surrendering to romantic intimacy. It's great to see Jill Clayburgh in a big-screen starring role (Schaeffer wrote the script especially for her and her co-star, Jeffrey Tambor), and the New York-set film's echoes of her star-making turn in 1978's "An Unmarried Woman" will resonate with the mature audiences this low-budget film will draw.

   The couple in question meet at a gay bar after respective aborted dates, his with a transsexual prostitute (Michael McKean, memorable in long red wig and lingerie). Convinced he may have reached the end of the line with women, exterminator/jazz musician Christopher (Jeffrey Tambor) is seeking "experimentation," while divorced Grace (Clayburgh), distraught over her daughter's leaving for college, is being urged by friends (Caroline Aaron, Sandy Duncan) to get back into the dating pool after a seven-year dry spell. Despite their determination not to fall in love, the romance blooms with movie-style quickness--for a while. The refreshing difference here is that these are two individuals negotiating a relationship without the veil of romantic illusion.

   The concept generally works, though there's often a lack of dynamism to Schaeffer's storytelling and the humor sometimes falls flat--including the intended sock of a final punchline. But Tambor and Clayburgh are fine, subtle performers; close-ups of their expressive faces propel the narrative to deeper levels. While scenes of Grace and her two friends feel stagy and annoyingly cute, in the role of Christopher's lifelong friend and musical partner, Bill Duke is, as usual, an intense, compelling presence. Twenty-four years after "An Unmarried Woman," the camera still loves Clayburgh, who delivers not only a bracingly powerful speech during a breakup scene in a restaurant, but an elegant physicality in the film's many offbeat moments, not least of which is the vision of her tiptoeing down a hospital corridor in a full suit of armor, looking like an otherworldly cross between Chaplin and C-3PO. "Never Again" doesn't quite rise above the conventions it attempts to deconstruct, but at its center are two gifted actors who are more than willing to take chances.    Starring Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh, Caroline Aaron, Bill Duke, Sandy Duncan, Michael McKean, Suzanne Shepherd and Lily Rabe. Directed and written by Eric Schaeffer. Produced by Eric Schaeffer, Terence Michael, Dawn Wolfrom and Bob Kravitz. A USA release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, and for language. Running time: 97 min.

Tags: romance, sex, Jeffrey Tambor, Jill Clayburgh, Caroline Aaron, Sandy Duncan, Bill Duke, Michael McKean, Suzanne Shepherd, Lily Rabe, Eric Schaeffer

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