“Unconditional Love” revisited

The ending still bugs me.

I first saw “Unconditional Love” in 2004; I’d never heard of it, but after discovering just how awesome Peter Sarsgaard is, I decided that I needed to watch every movie of his I could find, and with absolutely no prior knowledge, I found myself watching this quirky, uneven but cute little film about the most self-less kind of love.

And then I had to go and ruin things even more by rewatching it.

The movie opens with Grace (Kathy Bates), a frumpy housewife who has a passionate need to see her favorite performer Victor Fox (Jonathan Pryce), especially since her husband has just left her. She’s scores her ticket, gets to the show, only to discover that Victor has been murdered by a serial killer plaguing Chicago’s underbelly.

Then, against all logic, Grace decides to go to England to attend his funeral, and after a truly bizarre (and truly wonderful) cameo from Julie Andrews, she arrives only to discover that Victor, a man who spent his career flirting with middle-aged women, was gay, and that his longtime love Dirk (Rupert Everett) is trying to stop Victor’s family from whitewashing Victor’s past.

At this point in the movie, it’s still good. The quirky humor still shines, the silliness has not descended in to dreck, and I still love the characters. Grace and Dirk are the core of the film, and if you spend enough time with them, you can’t help but love them.

 

Here are two damaged but loveable people, who have let themselves be abused by the ones they love because their love is unconditional. It’s a subtle point that gets lost in all the craziness that follows, but it’s what this whole misguided enterprise was about, two people trying to reclaim their own sense of self worth after repeatedly being kicked around by life.

If the movie had stopped here, I would still love it. Even now, the first half is funny and sad and filled with moments that shine…but it doesn’t stop there. Once this charming, uneven picture becomes a murder mystery, it all goes to hell fast.

Even with all the baggage of the second half, I can’t hate “Unconditional Love,” mainly because Grace and Dirk are just so well acted and well written (the deep affection the writers have for their characters is obvious from the get-go). But they are so well acted and so well written that they deserve a much better movie than the one they got. Maybe another draft (or two), and “Unconditional Love” could have been something great, there is certainly enough good here to see that, but as it stands, it’s just this side of awful.

Want a second opinion? Check out Jim’s review.

Unconditional Love” (2002)

Written by Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan

Directed by P.J. Hogan

Starring: Kathy Bates (Grace)

Dirk Simpson (Rupert Everett)

Jonathan Pryce (Victor Fox)