They don't give Academy Awards to little gems like "Homage", but if they did, Blythe Danner would most assuredly deserve one. Danner, who's been quietly working her magic in indies & quality television specials over the last 25 years, steals great blocks of screen time away from co-stars Sheryl Lee, Frank Whaley, Bruce Davison and the breath-taking landscapes of New Mexico. A low-key study of fanatical celebrity worship at its most deadly, "Homage" draws its greatest strength from the complexity of its three central characters.
Blythe Danner is Elizabeth, a great teacher & a far-from-ideal mother, who lives alone on her ranch. When she's in need of a handyman, leave it to Frank Whaley as Archie to fill her every wish. Archie is the most dangerous sort of psycho, brilliant, charming & deceptively vulnerable. When Elizabeth's troubled, alcoholic, semi-famous daughter Lucy comes home for a visit, Archie shifts into stalking gear. Lucy (played to the hilt by Sheryl Lee) slips easily into the "go away closer" routines that work for her in Tinsel town. She teases Archie by walking braless around the house, by drinking & flirting & by letting him hold her hand a moment or two before wrenching it away. Archie, it seems, has a screenplay for his idol, but she doesn't like it.
In two fairly graphic sequences, he masturbates to her naked image on a video monitor & while reading about her sex life in a purloined journal. To his credit, Frank Whaley doesn't pull any punches in this extremely difficult role. He could have sweetened his character with eroticism, with genuine poignance or with an eyelash flicker of sanity, but he does none of the above. Whaley's Archie is always playing the angles to the bitter end.
Mother & daughter have a brief moment of redemption by allowing each other to see their very worst sides before they accept the bond of trust each has always dreamed about. None of Archie's pitiless manipulations can rob them of that. And Danner's Elizabeth, finally, triumphs over all her flawed impulses & deliberate misunderstandings to emerge from her exile into life. Writer Mark Medoff & director Ross Marks take Hollywood's ultimate violent cliché & turn it inside out in "Homage", a little-known wonder that merits a better fate. "Homage" plays regionally this week.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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