Though semi-faithful to Anne Tyler’s novel of the same title, the movie lacks the unique spirit and tone of the book. Director Lawrence Kasdan, whose work is usually humorless, proves to be the wrong filmmaker for translating onto the screen the novel’s affectionate and humorous treatment of its eccentric characters.
After the senseless death of their son, the marriage of Macon Leary (William Hurt) and Sarah Leary (Kathleen Turner) falls apart, and they separate. Macon then falls for an eccentric dog trainer, Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), but his emotional paralysis limits their relationship.
In voice-over narration, Macon Leary says: “A business traveler should bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble.”
The first part of the film, depicting the troubled marriage of the Learys, is rather weak. Sarah charges: “There’s something so muffled about the way you experience things. It’s as if you were trying to slip through life unchanged.” For his part, Macon is beginning to thing that “maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.”
The film suffers from slow pacing, melancholy tone, and lugubrious score. Fans of Tyler’s novel found the movie to be sketchy and its action baffling, to say the least.
Geena Davis’ exuberant performance is the film’s strongest and most vivid element, though her Supporting Oscar nomination was questionable; many believed she deserved a lead nomination since her role is sizeable and crucial to the narrative. Kasdan was snubbed by his colleagues at the Directors Branch, but the screenplay was nominated.
The story provides a new romantic myth for the 1980s, a time of widespread marriage and hoped-for birth. But, with the exceptions of the Geena Davis sequences, the movie is flat and mute. “The Accidental Tourist” is a bizarre date movie, one more suitable for darker times of lower expectations.
Released in prime Oscar time, in December, the film won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle. However, the Best Picture Oscar nomination of “The Accidental Tourist,” the only psychological drama that year, caught many critics and industry members by surprise.
At Oscar time, the film competed against the witty, offbeat costume piece, “Dangerous Liaisons”; the controversial political expose, “Mississippi Burning,” which was faulted for distorting reality; Mike Nicholss light comedy about corporate-ladder-climbing, “Working Girl”; and Barry Levinson’s siblings serio-comedy, “Rain Man,” which won Best Picture, Director, and Actor (Dustin Hoffman).
In 1988, the Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to Christopher Hampton for “Dangerous Liaisons.” Composer John Williams lost the award to Dave Grushin, who won for Robert Redford’s “The Milagro Beanfield War.”
Oscar Nominations: 4
Picture, produced by Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, and Michael Grillo.
Screenplay (Adapted): Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, based on the novel by Anne Tyler
Supporting Actress: Geena Davis
Score: John Williams
Oscar Awards: 1
Macon Leary (William Hurt)
Sarah Leary (Kathleen Turner)
Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis)
Rose (Amy Wright)
Julian (Bill Pullman)
Alexander Pritchett (Robert Gorman)
Porter Leary (David Ogden Stiers)
Charles Leary (Ed Begley Jr.)
Mr. Loomis (Bradley Mott)
Ethan (Seth Granger)
Produced by Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, Michael Grillo
Director: Kawrence Kasdan
Camera: John Bailey
Editor: Carol Littleton
Music: John Williams
Production design: Bo Welch
Costumes: Ruth Myers
Running time: 121 Minutes