A Previous Engagement (review)

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Here we have that rarity… and thank god it’s a rarity: a movie that hits every single damn note in precisely the wrong way. Packed with phony emotion, schtick that rings false even as schtick, characters meant to be amusingly clueless who are instead unbearably horrid, and one of the most overbearing movie soundtracks I’ve ever been subjected to, this romantic comedy strains for screwball and misses entirely. It’s the unholy offspring of a cartoon and a sitcom, only less subtle. It’s chalk-on-a-board awful. It pains me deeply to say this, because this is another kind of rarity: a movie written and directed by a woman (Joan Carr-Wiggin) about a woman of a certain age movies typically ignore. But it still has to stand on its own as a decent flick. Which it doesn’t. Julia (Juliet Stevenson [Breaking and Entering], who is a goddess, except not here) tricks her sitcom-terrible husband (Daniel Stern: Very Bad Things) into a vacation to Malta because she arranged, a quarter of a century earlier, to meet her old lover, Alex (Tcheky Karyo: A Very Long Engagement), there. A new form of cinematic torture ensues as absolutely everyone turns out to be someone you’d strangle for free — Julia’s whiny, bitchy, spoiled-rotten daughters would be first in line — and that, annoyingly, a disgustingly prefeminist retro hangs over something that is clearly meant to expand the awareness of women as people and as sexual creatures. Julia’s complaint that “if people knew who their mothers really were, the world would end,” is particularly ridiculously melodramatic, but combined with another woman introducing herself as a “divorcée,” among other archaic inanities, suggests that someone has failed to recognize that the year is no longer 1954.

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