Love Field (1992)


The success of “Steel Magnolias,” a melodrama featuring an all-star cast headed by Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine, and this year's two female-driven sleepers, “Fried Green Tomatoes,” with Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy, and the British comedy “Enchanted April” continues to prove that there is a viable market for small, intimate movies about women. Though often melodramatic in nature and sentimental in tone, these narratives also provide good, “meaty” roles for female stars in an industry still dominated by action-adventures, male-oriented pictures, and male stars.

How else could you explain the release of three movies this week, all centering on women's problems and emotions: the serio comedy “Used People,” John Sayles' “Passion Fish,” and Michelle Pfeiffer's star vehicle “Love Field.” Of the three, the most interesting one is “Passion Fish.”

Jonathan Kaplan's “Love Field” (the title refers to the Dalls airport) suffers from exactly the opposite problems of “Passion Fish.” All the narrative has going for it is a charismatic star performance by the versatile and talented Michelle Pfeiffer.

Set in Dallas in November l963, “Love Field” is yet another feature that's obsessed–actually haunted–by the Kennedy assassination, though this time the point of view is that of a woman, who completely identifies with Jackie Kennedy.

Pfeiffer is cast as Lurene Hallett, a bored, slightly abused Dallas housewife, who emulates First Lady Jackie Kennedy down to her hairstyle and curls. When Walter Cronkite informs the nation that Kennedy was assassinated, the wacky Lurene decides to leave her husband behind and go to his funeral by Greyhound. On the bus, she meets and befriends a cool and detached black man (Dennis Haysbert) and his mysterious daughter (magnificently played by Stephanie McFadden).

The film centers on the changing relationships of this trio and eventual (unconvincing) interracial romance of Pfeiffer and Haysbert. And, ultimately, “Love Field” is another humanistic and hopeful variation on the theme of black and white relationships. “Love Field” is well-intentioned, but I am hesitant to recommend a message film, which lacks much logic and wears its obvious politics on its sleeves. The film's appeal may be largely limited to the fans of Michelle Pfeiffer, without whom the film would not and could not have been made.

In a year that is not exactly great for female performances, some of the actresses in the three aforementioned movies, “Passion Fish,” “Love Field” and “Used People,” are bound to receive Oscar nominations and perhaps awards for their work.

It may be interesting to explore why most of Jonathan Kaplan's pictures center on women, but that's a subject for another column.

Oscar Alert

Michelle Pfeiffer was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, though the winner was Emma Thompson for the literary adaptation “Howards End,” in a race that also included Catherine Deneuve in the French period piece “Indochine,” Mary McDonnel in “Passion Fish,” and Susan Sarandon in “Lorenzo's Oil.”