The Film: The Accidental Tourist (1988)

The Principals: Director: Lawrence Kasdan.  William Hurt, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner, Bill Pullman

The Premise: Macon Leary (Hurt) has always been a strange, shrink-wrapped sort of man.   He specializes in writing travel books that minimize any contact with foreign culture or unpleasantness.     But the unexpected and violent death of his son causes him to retreat even further into his shell. His distance causes his wife to file for divorce.  Alone with his angry dog, Macon ends up burrowing into his childhood home, and plans to remain there.  But then he meets Muriel (Davis), a quirky, financially-strapped woman who offers to train his dog.   She forces herself into his life, and Macon finds his world upended. And he kind of likes it.

Is It Good: It is.  It’s not the film I remember, though. I remember it being funny and adorable.  But it’s actually a fairly miserable film, and a bit flabby in parts.  It’s less about the relationship between Muriel and Macon, and more about Macon being a truly bizarre man, bred of even stranger stock, and how he sort of blunders in and out of every circumstance.  (The description Kathleen Turner gives of him — of a man being muffled in cotton wool or something like that — seems an apt description of Hurt as well.)

I wanted to wax more intelligently on Lawrence Kasdan’s career … but you know, glancing over his filmography, I can’t think of a single defining factor beyond Kevin Kline.  I’d like to say this film fits into his themes and obsessions, but it really doesn’t from what I can see.  Thoughts on that would be appreciated.

Is It Worth A Look: It is, and for one reason — this is like the proto-Wes Anderson film.  Every one in it is decidedly odd, and the film luxuriates in the sheer quirkiness of everyone.  Macon’s entire family (a sister and two brothers) remain coddled in their childhood home, unable to even leave their own neighborhood without getting lost.  They refuse to answer the phone.    Even when the world comes intruding in (Macon losing his child, one of the siblings getting married), they continue along their bizarre way, alphabetizing soup cans and sipping up endless cups of coffee. We think of those sorts of characters as being something so new and postmodern, but here they are, happily living in the 1980s.

Muriel is actually the most normal character of the film, and here too is Tourist’s quietest contribution to pop culture: She’s the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a cute performance, but not super Oscar worthy in retrospect.

Random Cinematic Anecdotes: Geena Davis read this book to Jeff Goldblum while he had his Fly make-up applied. Cute!