Sunburned

Melanie, who can't relax for a moment but learns that she can ask for help, achieves a small epiphany when she realizes she's growing to trust Jack; at that point she lets herself smile. Pfeiffer does this warm, slow grin beautifully, but it arrives when Melanie's alone, in a cab. Of course, Melanie wouldn't expose her emotions to Jack so early on. But because Jack doesn't get to witness that kind of moment, it's as if he falls in love with only the physical beauty he keeps babbling about -- understandable, but not the stuff of scintillating courtship. The most flattering thing he says to Melanie is how awestruck he is over her looks. Despite the feminist themes strewn throughout the movie, it ends up with a pair of woefully conventional, glamorous opposites attracting: the buttoned-up broad and the hang-loose buck.

In producer Lynda Obst's recent book Hello, He Lied -- and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches, which could have been titled How to Succeed in the Movie Business by Really, Really Trying, one running topic is the imminent starburst of the male lead in One Fine Day: "The closer we looked, the more George Clooney looked like an old-fashioned movie star." Another is the need for Hollywood women to master the traditionally masculine game of hardball while blending old-fashioned and chic feminine attributes. A young-woman friend of mine who read Hello, He Lied told me she found it as horrifying as it was enlightening; the mixture of Hollywood game rules, sisterhoodly sentiments, and brutal pragmatism about manipulating the boys in town (from old saws such as "Thou Shalt Not Cry" to newer ones like "Thou Shalt Understand Thine Own Personal Style") left her depressed and exhausted.

Obst initiated One Fine Day and developed it with Pfeiffer's producing partner Kate Guinzburg; they and the writers, Ellen Simon and Terrel Seltzer, have tried to make the real-life tensions of career women and mothers the stuff of escapist entertainment; the result is fluffy yet gray. "Love in the Nineties is a function of trying to meld agendas, work, and baggage," which prevents "the lightness of romance," Obst has said. "This movie is meant to give license for romance to people whose lives appear to have no room for it." Well, from the evidence of this film, it's difficult to conjure the lightness of romance when you think in terms of "agendas" and "license." What's sad is that the movie's kernel of seriousness works against its heroine. When Melanie wishes she weren't acting the way she must act to keep her job and nurture her child, Pfeiffer has her most touching moment. But by that point, the movie itself has come down too hard on Melanie; it pushes her toward martyrdom when she comes down hard on herself.

Maybe the dramatic-comic equation would have balanced out on the sunnier side if the farcical bit players had more of a chance to register. Robert Klein brings his droll intelligence to Jack's befuddled shrink; Ellen Greene is uproariously brash as a scorned woman who figures in Jack's expose; and Jon Robin Baitz and Barry Kivel as the big shots Melanie has to impress have a screwy father-and-son rapport that gets funnier with each inscrutable pause. The film could have used more of them. To cover all the right "agendas," the moviemakers have decreased the unpredictable human factor in the supporting cast and the leads and thus undercut the comedy. One Fine Day is deft; it should have been more daft.

One Fine Day.
Written by Terrel Seltzer and Ellen Simon; directed by Michael Hoffman; with Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, Sheila Kelley, Robert Klein, Barry Kivel, Jon Robin Baitz, Mae Whitman, Alex D. Linz, and Ellen Greene.

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