Friday April 7, 2000
"Soft Fruit" asks us to spend 101 minutes with people most of us wouldtake pains to avoid in real life.
The difference between this film, a first feature for writer-director Christina Andreef, and works by her executive producer, Jane Campion, is that Campion can take blue-collar Australians and New Zealanders at their crassest levels and involve us in their fates. Andreef's people are, by and large, as off-putting at the end as they are at the beginning, and they stubbornly remain types rather than emerging as individuals.
Andreef tries for laughter amid tears as a rowdy clan in a small town gathers to be with hearty matriarch Patsy (Jeanie Dryden). At the outset Patsy seems perfectly fine, but she is facing a swift decline and death from some unspecified form of abdominal cancer.
Patsy has been married a long time to Vic (Linal Haft), an irascible and violent Russian immigrant. Her eldest daughter, Josie (Genevieve Lemon), arrives from the United States with her small children, promising herself she won't squabble with her sisters, Nadia (Sacha Horler) and Vera (Alice Talbot). Patsy's son Bo (Russell Dykstra), a drug-abusing biker, has won early parole from prison--we don't know precisely what put him there, but he's clearly the reckless type--but his father has sworn not to let him in the house.
Patsy seems a pleasant-enough woman with a passion for Jacqueline Kennedy that she defends as a harmless flight of fancy, and who would argue with that? Her daughters are all pretty women who are also overweight, so there's much concern among them about what the bathroom scales will reveal. They spar a bit, carry on a lot, but it's crystal-clear they're basically nice women who will pull together to care tenderly for their mother. The clash between Vic (who's not above giving a grown daughter a hard smack if she says something that displeases him) and Bo is predictably violent, but we never do get a clue as to why Vic is such a relentless, thick-headed brute.
The ability to play boisterous comedy against impending tragedy effectively is beyond Andreef's reach, and the entire family comes across as loud and tiresome. None of its behavior is convincing because none of these people seems completely real in the first place. A poor man's "Sweetie"--alas, Andreef was that film's assistant director--"Soft Fruit" is soft-headed.
Soft Fruit, 2000. R, for sexuality and nudity, language and drug content. A Fox Searchlight Pictures and Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation in association with the New South Wales Film Board and Television Office. Writer-director Christina Andreef. Executive producer Jane Campion. Cinematographer Laszlo Baranyi. Editor Jane Moran. Music Antony Partos. Costumes Jane Holland. Production designer Sarah Stollman. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog. John Tormey as Louie. Sonny Valerio as Cliff Gorman. Frank Minucci as Big Angie. Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank. Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo. Henry Silva as Ray Vargo. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Aaron Eckhart as George. Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen. Cherry Jones as Pamela Duncan. Peter Coyote as Kurt Potter. Shane West as Ryan. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Ashley. Marla Sokoloff as Maggie. Richard Schiff as Gym coach. Aaron Paul as Floyd. Chris Klein as Kelley. Leelee Sobieski as Samantha. Josh Hartnett as Jasper. Michael Rooker as Jasper's father. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria. Margherita Buy as Caterina. Silvio Orlando as Ernesto. Carolina Freschi as Teresa. Alessandro di Natale as Gabriele. Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce. Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. Janet McTeer as Caroline Pierce. Hal Holbrook as Isaac Green. Cameron Van Hoy as Stevie. Mischa Barton as Rocky. Burt Reynolds as Daniel Bender. Adam Farrar as Wheelchair Man. Nancho Novo as Max. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Monica. Ingrid Rubio as Yeye. Beatriz Santiago as Maria. Gustavo Salmeron as Alberto. Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad. Hossein Mahjub as Hashem. Salime Feizi as Granny. Elham Sharim as Hanyeh. Farahnaz Safari as Bahareh. Aidan Gillen as Francis. Emmanuelle Seigner as Gloria. Susan Tyrrell as Sal. Mark Boone Jr. as Vic. Joshua Jackson as Luke McNamara. Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake. Hill Harper as Will Beckford. Leslie Bibb as Chloe. Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson. John Cusack as Rob. Iben Hjejle as Laura. Todd Louiso as Dick. Jack Black as Barru. Lisa Bonet as Marie De Salle. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief. Scott Caan as Scotty. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry. Stacy Edwards as Sheila. Gaby Hoffman as Raven. Jeanie Dryden as Patsy. Linal Haft as Vic. Russell Dykstra as Bo. Genevieve Lemon as Josie. Sacha Horler as Nadia. Alicia Talbot as Vera.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun