Peter's Friends (United Kingdom/United States, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With his third directorial effort, Kenneth Branagh (who has already done the Shakespearean Henry V and the noir thriller Dead Again) sets his sights a smaller sort of picture. Peter's Friends is a slice-of-life movie that illustrates the reunion of six once-close friends ten years after their last get-together. Needless to say, each of them has changed in many ways, and not always for the better.

At its best, Peter's Friends is warm, touching, and funny. At its worst, it's annoying and preachy. Fortunately, there are a few more moments in the former category than in the latter. The film's characters are generally well-realized, although the script has a tendency to rely on cliched situations to give depth to its people. There's an alcoholic, a couple that have lost a child, a bisexual male, a lonely woman in search of a husband, and a career-driven actress who puts her fame before her marriage. All of that sounds pretty familiar, right?

Rita Rudner, the only performer who can't adequately carry the weight of her role, doesn't belong in the movie (since she co-wrote it with her husband, it seems Branagh felt obligated to give her something). Not only is she unconvincing as Carol, but her character is gratingly unpleasant. Without her, Peter's Friends would have been a notch less abrasive - although only a notch, since most of Peter's friends are more pathetic than sympathetic.

Emma Thompson continues to impress, giving the only performance that seems straight-from-the-heart. Her husband, Branagh, does a better job as a director than as an actor in this outing. While there's nothing specifically wrong with his portrayal of Andrew, his work behind the camera is more noteworthy. There are several effective long, single-camera shots with no cuts or edits.

The actors' good rapport with each other comes across in character interaction (especially that of Branagh and Thompson - observe the subtle body language between them). This shouldn't be a surprise, considering how well most of them know each other away from the screen.

The rock-and-pop-heavy soundtrack is one of the centerpieces of Peter's Friends. The use of certain songs, such as Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (over the opening credits) and Queen's "You're My Best Friend", are effective in establishing a mood, but too many of the pieces seem to have been inserted just to get them into the movie.

Peter's Friends is something of a mixed bag as far as "comic melodramas" go. The script is of widely varying quality, and this affects both tone and pacing. Plus, of course, having to spend so much time with self-centered jerks like Andrew and Carol can be irritating. This is Branagh's worst effort to date and shows, if nothing else, that no matter how talented the director and his cast, he still needs a decent screenplay. And that, ultimately, is where Peter's Friends falls short.

Peter's Friends (United Kingdom/United States, 1992)

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Rita Rudner
Screenplay: Martin Bergman and Rita Rudner
U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 1992-12-25
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1