Tuesday November 21, 1995

     Henry Jaglom's "Last Summer in the Hamptons" is the independent filmmaker's best film to date--deeper, broader, more assured and more formal than its predecessors but no less spontaneous and amusing (those end-credit thank yous to Chekhov, Joyce and Renoir are not for nothing).
     Having expressed such bemused, loving concern for women's hang-ups with diet ("Eating") and motherhood ("Babyfever"), he has now collaborated with his wife and star, the luminous Victoria Foyt, on a bittersweet celebration of love and art, family life, actors and acting and the theater. The film is in particular a homage to the veteran actress Viveca Lindfors.
     Lindfors plays the vibrant matriarch of a large and distinguished three-generation theater clan. The family has gathered at her spacious, slightly run-down estate for one last weekend, for Lindfors' Helena, who bought it long ago with "Hollywood money," can no longer afford to keep it. A drama coach as well as an actress, Helena traditionally moves her classes to the estate for the summer, culminating in an outdoor evening of performances.
     Joining the group is Foyt's Oona Hart, a young Hollywood actress who's just scored in a "Wonder Woman"-type movie but longs to hone her craft to become a serious actress, or so she believes. (Her big acting exercise is, hilariously, to play an "empowering" female panther.)
     Be patient and attentive, and you'll be able to figure out how everyone is related or otherwise connected. The undeniable center of attention is Helena's playwright grandson Jake (esteemed playwright Jon Robin Baitz, in a notable screen acting debut). Helena wants to direct his play, Oona would love to star in it--if she can get Jake to change the lead character from a gay male to a straight woman!
     She wants Jake's famous director-father (Andre Gregory), a noted Lothario who swears he's retired in that department, to direct it, but Jake, who's gay himself, doesn't want to work with his father, who he believes has never really come to terms with his son's sexual orientation. Jake's uncle Eli (Ron Rifkin) wants a role in it too. Jake is also the object of unrequited incestuous passion on the part of his miserable sister Trish (Melissa Leo). What's more, he's being hit upon by a sexy, spectacular-looking acting apprentice (Nick Gregory) who'll do anything to get a part in his play.
     Very soon Oona is giddy with options: a romance with Helena's charmer of a son (Kristoffer Tabori, Lindfors' actual actor-director son) who wants to whisk her away to his regional theater; a chance at Broadway with Jake or a return to Hollywood with her money-minded filmmaker-lover (Jaglom) for a "Mary Marvel II."
     By way of a calmer but no less passionate counterpoint, Helena contemplates her life and career, her forsaking of Hollywood for the New York theater because "I wasn't learning my craft. I didn't know what I was doing." Helena in effect is commenting on Lindfors' own long and distinguished career. Also prominent are Helena's old friends (Roddy McDowall, Roscoe Lee Browne) who've come to persuade her to let them help her preserve her papers and memorabilia, and Martha Plimpton as Helena's granddaughter, who's going through a punk rebel phase.
     Jaglom observes this human comedy with compassionate humor, acknowledging that pretension, ego, vanity and vulnerability are part of a brave and noble life in the theater, and his people are so real he seems to be eavesdropping on life.
     Last month Viveca Lindfors died unexpectedly in her native Uppsala, Sweden, where she was touring with "In Search of Strindberg." As shocking as her death was, Lindfors couldn't have had a finer farewell than "Last Summer at the Hamptons," in which she takes quite literally a last bow.


Last Summer at the Hamptons, 1995. R, for language\f7 .* A Rainbow release from the Rainbow Film Co. Director Henry Jaglom. Producer Judith Wolinsky. Screenplay by Jaglom and Victoria Foyt. Cinematographer Hanania Baer. Editor Jaglom. Music consultant Ron Baitz. Scenic design Bruce Postman, Jeff Monte. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Victoria Foyt as Oona Hart. Viveca Lindfors as Helena Mora. Jon Robin Baitz as Jake Axelrod. Andre Gregory as Ivan Axelrod.