Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1987. Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures. Screenplay by William Kennedy, based on his novel. Cinematography by Lauro Escorel. Produced by Keith Barish, Marcia Nasatir. Music by John Morris. Production Design by Jeannine Oppewall. Costume Design by Joseph G. Aulisi. Film Editing by Anne Goursaud. Academy Awards 1987. Golden Globe Awards 1987. New York Film Critics Awards 1987.
Although it’s a difficult story that doesn’t make for light fare, this Depression-era melodrama is a marvelous character study with a huge emotional payoff in the end. Jack Nicholson plays a drifter who wanders the desolate streets of the city after having years ago left his middle-class family when tragedy left him confused and disillusioned. Meryl Streep is a once-famous concert pianist who is now drinking herself to death and frequenting soup kitchens with Nicholson. Their experiences together and separately make up this brilliant film, adapted by William Kennedy from his own novel, in which director Hector Babenco finds the beauty in the middle of so much pain and suffering. The sequence where Nicholson visits his family at home will slay even the most cynical of audiences, particularly upon Diane Venora‘s appearance. This is the kind of serious drama that one expects Streep to be so good in, but even for her own standards the performance is above and beyond anything she had ever accomplished before, her voice and demeanor a terrifying change from her usually softer, more apologetic characters.