on October 01, 1999 by Tim Cogshell
   Nihilistic. That's the word that best describes the films of writer/director Gregg Araki. From the angry gay teens in "Nowhere" and "Totally F***ed Up" to the bleakly psychotic Gen-X road trippers of "The Living End" and "Doom Generation," despair abounds in his work. While the theme of embittered homosexual alienation often relegates Araki's films to adoring niche audiences, "Splendor" couldn't be more different. Not that it's completely new territory (unconventional sexual experimentation is key to the film), but it's couched in much less fatalistic terms.
   Veronica ("Nowhere's" Kathleen Robertson) is a hip 23-year-old who flees the smothering predictability of the midwest for a bohemian lifestyle in Los Angeles. In other words, she's loose. She soon falls for two guys, Zed ("The Last Days of Disco's" Matt Keeslar) and Able ("Doom Generation's" Johnathon Schaech). Zed is a drummer in a punk band. He's stupid, but sweet and coursing with raw sexual energy. Able is an intelligent and gorgeous freelance rock critic. They're not crazy about each other, but they're nuts for Veronica. Somehow, she manages to get her lovers to live in relative harmony-at her place. This provides the set-up for lots of menage-a-trois tangles of limbs and bed linen bathed in warm lighting.
   Eventually Veronica starts to grow weary of Zed and Abel's slacker tendencies. Enter Ernest, an actual adult. He's a successful TV director who casts Veronica in one of his "woman in peril" movies; both quickly become smitten. When Veronica finds out she's pregnant and the only person she knows for sure isn't the father is Ernest, she has to make a decision. Ernest is willing to take care of her and her baby, while Zed and Abel haven't even filled out unemployment applications. Whatever will she do?
   "Splendor" is fun and sweet in a Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Doris Day kind of way--a welcome change that may usher Araki into the mainstream of filmmaking. Which will probably disturb him greatly.    Starring Kathleen Robertson, Johnathon Schaech and Matt Keeslar. Directed and written by Gregg Araki. Produced by Damian Jones, Graham Broadbent and Gregg Araki. A Goldwyn release. Rated R for sexuality and language. Running time: 123 min.
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