Reckless (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Reckless is a Christmas story for all of us who like our holiday fare spiced with bizarre characters and strange plot twists. This black comedy, directed by Norman Rene (Longtime Companion, Prelude to a Kiss) and written by his frequent collaborator, Craig Lucas, takes good cheer and Seasons' Greetings and turns them upside down. Insightful and very funny, this film sails through a wonderful seventy minutes before slipping slightly off-track as it slides into its denouement.

Reckless opens to the warm strains of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" as the camera sweeps over a snowscape to a small house decorated with colored lights. Inside, it's Christmas Eve, and Rachel (Mia Farrow) is reminiscing about holidays past -- how she wanted so much to believe in Santa Claus and would try to stay awake at night to hear the reindeers' hooves on the roof. Outside, snow continues to fall, and Rachel confides to her husband (Tony Goldwyn) that she's on the verge of a "euphoria attack." His unexpected response begins an unreal odyssey for Rachel that ends in Springfield, Massachusetts at the home of a rugged, saintly good Samaritan named Lloyd (Scott Glenn) and his paraplegic, deaf/mute wife, Pooty (Mary-Louise Parker).

To reveal more about Reckless' seemingly-endless twists and turns would be unfair, but the movie almost never goes along exactly the expected path. Rene and Lucas have consciously incorporated a number of standard Hollywood subplots into their film, then spun them off in unanticipated directions. Coincidence plays a big part in much of what transpires, but this is less a plot device than a statement by the film makers of how real life is often impelled by the vagaries of an ironic, fickle fate.

The first two-thirds of the movie successfully accomplish a delicate balancing act between an absurd comic tone and occasional moments of drama. Unhappily, during the final thirty minutes, these two opposing moods begin to grate and clash, which results in an uneven conclusion. The film perhaps tries to do too much and, while it gets most of its points across, the style towards the end isn't as appealing as it is near the beginning.

Reckless toys with the differences between dreams and reality. From the opening moments, there's always a flicker of doubt about whether what we're seeing is "really" happening, or whether it's a part of Rachel's conscious (or subconscious) imagination. The cinematography by Blue Velvet's Frederick Elmes highlights the surreality of certain scenes, and each individual is left to ponder which parts of Reckless, if any, are fantasy.

A fair amount of Reckless' screen time is spent examining the issue of identity: how our appearance to others may have nothing to do with who we really are. No matter how completely anyone thinks they know us, there's always something concealed. Friends, lovers, spouses -- none see us with exactly the same perspective as we view ourselves. In Reckless, not only do each of the characters have hidden sides, but the essential nature of their personality is mutable over time. Rachel believes that the past is something we "wake up from." Lloyd, on the other hand, sees it as something we "wake up to."

The cast includes some well-known names. Mia Farrow plays off her Woody Allen-groomed reputation to good effect. She's bright and sparkling, and what she accomplishes here is easily her best work in years. Mary-Louise Parker adds another exceptional performance to her growing resume, and Scott Glenn is wonderfully laid-back. Actors like Stephen Dorff and Eileen Brennan ably fill smaller roles.

Rene and Lucas explored the issue of identity in a slightly different fashion in their previous film, Prelude to a Kiss. In that story, an old man and a young, newly-married woman switch bodies. In Reckless, the theme is examined a little more subtlety and with a great deal more laughter. Despite its failings, this motion picture is a rare thought-provoking comedy, and a wonderful example of something that, at least on the surface, looks like a Hollywood film, but definitely doesn't behave like one.

Reckless (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1