Film Review: The Accidental Tourist (1988)


Among many examples of great literature not guaranteeing good film adaptation is The Accidental Tourist, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anne Tyler. Eponymous 1988 film directed by Lawrence Kasdan, despite having and deserving its share of awards, is far from masterpiece such esteemed source would suggest.

The protagonist, played by William Hurt, is Macon Leary, introvert Baltimore man who has found the perfect job that suits his character – travel writer who writes books for business travellers and other people who don’t like to travel or want their experience to be as close to staying home as possible. A year ago he experienced unimaginable tragedy when his 12-year old son Ethan (played by Seth Granger) became victim of senseless murder. His wife Sarah (played by Kathleen Turner) leaves him and all he is left for company is Ethan’s dog Edward. Problems with dog lead him to contact Muriel Pritchet (played by Geena Davis), eccentric but likeable dog trainer. She is divorced and becomes attracted to Maco. After initially rejecting her romantic advances, he finally begins to live with her and her sickly 7-year old son Alexander (played by Robert Hy Gorman). He finds something of a happiness but everything changes when Sarah returns and show interest in restarting their marriage, forcing Macon to make some difficult choices.

Lawrence Kasdan, also better known as screenwriter than director, although he showed great skill with directorial debut Body Heat, modern noir classic. The Accidental Tourist is very different film – romantic drama with only small traces of comedy – but Kasdan proves to be capable working with script he co-wrote with Frank Galati. He had good associates at hand – John Williams, who provided minimalist but effective score and cinematographer John Bailey who created interesting atmosphere both in scenes that take place in interiors, as well as different locations that included Baltimore, London and Paris. However, the most important element of the film was the cast. Two actors – William Hurt and Kathleen Turner – had been paired in Body Heat, and here they are again paired (at least temporarily) and play very different characters. Hurt again is again great in playing extreme introvert, a man who desperately tries (and for the most part succeeds) to suppress his emotions and avoid any challenge to familiar path of his life. Film also owes a lot to Geena Davis, who succeeds in evoking audience’s sympathy to the character that initially looks too eccentric and too aggressive; Davis later won Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work. Although a good film, The Accidental Tourist suffers from pacing issues, most probably created but too much adherence to source material. Characters of Macon’s eccentric brothers (played by David Ogden Stiers and Ed Begley Jr.) aren’t fleshed enough, while the subplot involving Macon’s yuppie editor (played by Bill Pullman) romancing Macon’s family-bound sister Rose (played by Amy Wright), while somewhat likeable, looks like a distraction. The Accidental Tourist begins to test audience’s patience in the second half, making its predictable conclusion less effective than it could have been. However, even with such flaws, this film deserves recommendation, and not only for audience that care only about great actors at work.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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