Fit of Peak

Miss O'Hare, the plucky protagonist of the delightful new comedy-mystery (comedystery?) Widow's Peak, feels betrayed by those closest to her when a scandal involving a secret love affair comes to light, airing her dirty laundry in public. Who better to play the part than Mia Farrow?

Taking on a role originally written for her mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, Farrow bounces back from all the sordid unpleasantness of the past two years with her strongest motion picture performance in nearly a decade. It wouldn't be fair to say that Farrow steals Widow's Peak; Joan Plowright (Enchanted April, The Summer House) once again nails the role of the formidable English matron. Plowright paints her character with such assured strokes and consummate skill that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. She has made it her own in much the same fashion that Anthony Hopkins has claimed the fastidious English gentleman in Howards End, Remains of the Day, and Shadowlands. And Natasha Richardson is no slouch as the femme fatale whose arrival in Widow's Peak (an insular community of well-to-do dowagers who look down -- literally and figuratively -- on the more common "townies" residing in the nearby village of Kilshannon) sets Hugh Leonard's droll yarn into motion. But Farrow displays perfect pitch in the picture's pivotal performance. Her every glance radiates just the proper measures of vulnerability and hard-won inner strength. After all, she's a bitter woman who believes she's been victimized playing a bitter woman who believes she's been victimized. Small wonder that she's convincing. Nothing like the anguish of a publicly fought, acrimonious custody battle to add a little resonance to your acting.

While the three female leads lay waste to the sedate Irish countryside, their caterwauling is not the only quality that distinguishes Widow's Peak from Murder, She Wrote. Irish playwright Leonard (Da) has fashioned a witty, crafty screenplay that's equal parts Agatha Christie and E.M. Forster, with just a dash of The Sting thrown in for good measure. (I could have done without the latter element; the "surprise ending," while shrewd enough, struck me as a bit facile.) Leonard peppers the dialogue with bons mots such as, "Widows are as plentiful as freckles on a redhead," and, "What began as a quarrel has turned into a scandal -- there's even talk of graffiti!"

As much of a puzzle as the story itself is the career of director John Irvin, who made the exquisite Turtle Diary in 1984 but has since stooped as low as 1989's sorry Patrick Swayze vehicle, Next of Kin. Maybe he's only good for one outstanding movie per decade. In any event his work here is nearly flawless. He elicits three bravura performances from his stars and matches them with a similar level of excellence from his supporting cast. His haunting, gauzy vistas of the Irish countryside are so rich and fecund you can practically taste the mist and smell the humus. And he balances the highbrow comedy and the intrigue with ease. Widow's Peak is Irvin's peak as well.

But the film belongs to Farrow. Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but that's nothing compared to the wrath of a gifted actress with an ax to grind.

And this week, a couple of postscripts:
You may not believe this based upon my recent track record, but I do strive for accuracy in my writing for this paper. Okay, maybe strive is too strong a word. Maybe it would be more precise to say I aspire to accuracy. All right, let's just say I occasionally allow facts to slip into my reviews.

A friend of Henry Jaglom's called to point out that in the photo accompanying my review of Jaglom's Babyfever, I credited the director and wife Victoria Foyt with a two-year-old daughter named Carolina. This came as a shock to proud parents Jaglom and Foyt, who named their daughter Sabrina.

Then, in last week's review of Beverly Hills Cop 3, I mentioned Bronson Pinchot's bit part as a hairdresser in Cop. A few alert readers called to remind me that Pinchot played a salesman in an art gallery. Heh-heh. Just making sure you were awake

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