Ordinary conversations between actor/director Stanley Tucci and his past collaborator actress Patricia Clarkson would be joys to behold compared to Tucci’s creative stumble, a backwards remake of late filmmaker Theo Van Gogh‘s 1996 couples drama “Blind Date.” Tucci and Clarkson have displayed liveliness and passion on plenty of occasions. But as Don and Janna, an unhappy married couple that answers each other’s fake classified ads as a means to re-spark their relationship, they surprisingly, fail to click.
Tucci and co-writer David Schechter faithfully adapt Van Gogh’s “Blind Date” and to Tucci’s credit the series of make-believe dates that comprise the film are colorful. In one instance, a blind man looks to convince a woman a relationship can work. In another, a woman seeks a dance partner. The best “date” involves Tucci pretending to be a reporter seeking an aggressive woman to interview for a story.
Tucci has been directing movies since 1996 and “Blind Date” reveals a filmmaker with plenty of technical skills and artistic flourishes. His crew, made up of people who worked with Van Gogh, is up to the task. Cinematographer Thomas Kist, a longtime Van Gogh collaborator, brings the film a beautiful use of shadows and soft lighting and gliding camerawork thanks to an elaborate three camera set up favored by Van Gogh. Yet, surprisingly, despite Tucci’s use of Van Gogh’s crew, his “Blind Date” is a clumsy trip backwards, half as successful as actor/director Steve Buscemi‘s 2007 Van Gogh remake “Interview.” Perhaps, Tucci would have been wiser to take some chances and adapt more loosely.
The standout feature in “Blind Date” is the beautiful setting put together by production designer Loren Weeks. “Blind Date” takes place in the type of antiquated watering hole and cabaret that no longer exists in most cities, a location found in Ghent, Belgium. Bumper cars are thrown into the mix in the film’s liveliest moment. Tucci is at his best in comedy, whether slapstick, “The Imposters,” or warm romance, “Big Night.” In the film’s few playful moments, when Don performs as a dance hall magician pulling a rubber fish out of his pants, Tucci appears at ease. In the film’s frequent moments of high drama, Tucci comes off as uncomfortable, proving that playing serious requires more than the unshaven face and dangling cigarette he sports throughout the film.
Speaking to his behind-the-camera work, the haphazard, mixed-up “Blind Date” makes the case that serious melodrama is not Tucci’s strong suit as a storyteller. Clarkson is more successful in the film if only because her classic beauty and range of emotions are a joy to watch. She also seems to be having some fun, hiking up her black dress to spice up one date. Clarkson is the better banterer, yet, not good enough to call “Blind Date” a movie success. Tucci, however, never fully gets into character. It’s as if his responsibilities on both sides of the camera took his toll.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.
In the film’s best moment, Janna downs a shot of tequila and hits Don hard. That’s exactly what the film needs, a hard punch to its creative gut. Actually, that’s what Tucci needs. You’ve tried something different with “Blind Date.” Now, go back to your filmmaking strengths.