Trixie (2000): Alan Rudolph’s Misfire of a Comedy-Mystery

Sundance Film Festival (premieres), Jan. 25, 2000–Despite an all-star cast, Trixie, Alan Rudolph’s new comedy-mystery about larceny, love and language, is a minor, rather trivial film.

Grade: C (1*1/2 out of *****)


It reflects the director’s whimsical wish to revisit the favorite genres of noir and screwball, but lacks distinctive humor or fresh contempo take on these cherished Hollywood formats.

Restricted by Rudolph’s misguided script, the talented Emily Watson gives a one-note performance in her first comedic role as a naive blue-collar gumshoe. A glorious cast, that also includes Nick Nolte, Nathan Lane, and Lesley Ann Warren, is able to elevate this baffling effort to the level of a curiosity item, but no more. Sony Classics should expect small returns for a picture that might please only Rudolph’s coterie of hardcore fans, as was demonstrated by the extremely lukewarm response for its world premiere at the Sundance Festival.

Rudolph is not the first director interested in providing his personal gaze on Hollywood’s bygone chestnuts. Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery was a similarly slight caper, in which Allen and Diane Keaton played a married couple suspecting that their seemingly harmless neighbor has murdered his wife. However, unlike Allen’s comedy-mystery, which was mildly engaging based on some funny one-liners and set pieces and the strong chemistry between the stars who played off each other’s neuroses, Rudolph’s lame enterprise is devoid of vigorous and sustained humor and its protagonist lacks meaningful rapport with any of her surrounding males.

Working in dead-end jobs all of her life, security guard Trixie Zurbo (Watson) stumbles into what seems like an exciting and dangerous detective case: A murder mystery that involves Senator Drummond Avery (Nolte). In the first reel, viewers are likely to have a smile or two at Trixie’s battle with the English language, based on her ability to think in a much more articulate way than her speaking skills. Her linguistic malapropos come across as more truthful than when she tries to convey them in a grammatically correct manner. Obsessed with disclosing the truth, Trixie is an innocent woman who can’t describe it.

Trixie’s dialogue is contrasted with Senator’s smooth talk, which is correct but all lies and double takes, which is emphasized by the fact that many of his lines derive from actual political speeches. This accent on language and miscommunication is best demonstrated in a prolonged, well-executed restaurant scene, in which Trixie and the corrupt politician express themselves in completely divergent ways–that they manage to connect allusively in a manner both understand is part of the joke.

Two other men brighten the film’s dreary landscape, Crescent Cove, a small, remote resort town. Nathan Lane plays Trixie’s buddy, a nightclub impressionist/singer with a shady past who has wound up working in the local casino. More problematic is Dermot Mulroney’s role as Dex Lang, a handsome ladies man with his own secret. The narrative is based on the discrepancy between overt appearances and true essences, namely, the idea that most people are not what they seem to be, a familiar notion that Rudolph adopts for his own purposes.

The supporting thesps are vastly underused, beginning with Brittany Murphy, as a shrewd and glamorous barfly, and particularly Lesley Ann Warren, as a strung-out, has-been lounge singer. As the brutal and corrupt resort developer, Will Patton is typecast in a part he could have played in his sleep.

Watching Trixie, which was proficiently produced by Robert Altman, brings to mind another, far superior Altman production, Robert Benton’s The Late Show, in which Art Carney was an aging private eye who tries to solve the murder of his former partner, with the “help” of a flaky and aimless young woman (Lily Tomlin). Unfortunately, unlike that movie, Trixie is coy when it needs to be sharp, simplistically cute and when it needs to be barbed and perceptive.

In both The Late Show and Manhattan Murder Mystery, there were at least slight echoes of Chandler and Hammett, but Rudolph’s movie, which overextends its welcome by at least 15 minutes, passively situates itself in a treasured literary and cinematic tradition without having anything interesting or entertaining to say.


A Sony Pictures Classics release. Produced by Robert Altman. Executive producer, James McLindon. Co-producer, Joseph Patrick Finn. Directed, written by Alan Rudolph, screenplay based on a story by Rudolph and John Binder. Camera (DeLuxe, wide screen), Jan Kiesser; editor, Michael Ruscio; music, Mark Isham, Roger Neill; production design, Richard Paris, Linda Del Rosario; set decoration, Brian Kane; costume design, Monique Prudhomme; sound (Dolby), Rick Patton; assistant director, Allan Harmon; casting, Pam Dixon Mickelson. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 117 min.


Trixie Zurbo………..Emily Watson
Dex Lang…………Dermot Mulroney
Senator Drummond Avery…Nick Nolte
Kirk Stans…………..Nathan Lane
Ruby Pearli………Brittany Murphy
Dawn Sloane…….Lesley Ann Warren
Red Rafferty…………Will Patton
Jacob Slotnick………Stephen Lang