ONCE AROUND" will remind some people of "Terms of Endearment," but only in the best of ways.
"Like Terms of Endearment," the new film combines comedy with tragedy and makes it all work. You'll come away crying or laughing or both.
"Once Around" is the first American production of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom ("My Life as a A Dog"), which may be why it is so free of cliche. Maybe he hasn't seen the "Godfather" movies. Maybe he has and hasn't allowed them to influence him. Whatever the case, Hallstrom's film is both fresh and true.
The script was written by Malia Scotch Marmo and plays as though it is based on personal experience. The film takes place in Boston, at the home of Joe Bella, who is probably a third-generation Italian-American. He's sentimental about his mother. Mention her name, and he cries. He is also authoritative, or tries to be. No one really listens him, particularly his two daughters. This is the new Italian-American father.
His younger daughter is about to marry. The other is about to end a pointless affair with a young man who has no intention of marrying her.
Renata, the older daughter, is just a little less than broken-hearted. Instead of crying, she heads for an island paradise where she meets Sam Sharpe, played to perfection by Richard Dreyfuss.
Sam is older than Renata. He has also been married and divorced, but he truly loves this woman and wants to marry her. She hopes he will marry her, so all goes well until Renata introduces her fiance to her family.
They don't really know what to make of him. He's rich, but they don't really know how he earns his money. He seems to be in real estate, but no one knows for sure. He is, however, faithful to Renata, but the family remains suspicious, maybe because Sam is Lithuanian and proudly so. If the head of this family sings an Italian song, Sam thinks he should be allowed to sing a Lithuanian song.
He does have a one-track mind. It is hard to derail him, and in time, the Bellas ask their daughter not to bring Sam to their home anymore. "He's tearing us apart," says the father.
He isn't, really. He is one of the nicer things happening to this family, so you wonder why Joe (Danny Aiello) would say something like this; it seems out of character.
Joe's daughter reacts in predictable manner. She is defiant. She says she and Sam, by now her husband, will no longer appear at her parents' home, and things go this way for a time, until the family gets to like their new in-law.
Holly Hunter is the daughter who marries Sam, and Laura San Giacamo is the younger daughter who marries first, and tells her sister, on her wedding day, that she has been having an affair with the boy next door.
When the boy next door marries, he begs Jan (San Giacamo) to attend the wedding and bring her family along. She does, and the Bellas are the only people there, the only people attending a fully produced wedding ceremony, one that includes ...'...'TC 10-year-old boy who swirls about the altar in a tux and is armed with a camcorder.
That's the kind of film this is. It is amusing, quaint, heartbreaking and then, finally, immensely satisfying. Griffin Dunne, who appears in the film and also served as co-producer, said they were hesitant about hiring Aiello for the role of the father. They didn't want him to be "too Italian." Aiello is Italian enough. This may be the best thing he has done.
Dreyfuss has said he thought the role of Sam a "dangerous" one because most people who read the script didn't like the character. Impossible. Not as Dreyfuss plays him. As Dreyfuss does him, Sam is overwhelming but thoroughly likable, a man you can trust. As Dreyfuss plays him, Sam is a natural. Dreyfuss is so good, you are hardly aware that he is acting.
Hunter is pert and resilient as Renata, and San Giacamo is charmingly sassy as her sister. Gena Rowlands is Mrs. Bella, and Danton Stone and Roxanne Hart are the Bella son and his wife. Good company. Excellent film.
**** A Boston family is shaken by the addition of a new member, an older man who marries their daughter.
DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallstrom
RATING: R (language, sex)
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes