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MOVIE REVIEW : A Lively Portrait of Couple Falling In and Out of 'True Love'

November 10, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

It's not exactly a many-splendored thing, but "True Love" (at the Beverly Center Cineplex and the Century Plaza Cinemas) is as funny and fascinating as it is unflorid. This lively portrait of young Italian-Americans falling in and out of love come matrimony season in the Bronx plays like a trenchant cross between a teen sex comedy and an Albert Brooks super-realist nightmare. Or maybe "Moonstruck" in hell.

Its young bride, Donna (Annabella Sciorra), and bridegroom, Michael (Ron Eldard), are none too bright as they spend their last few single days wildly careening toward what increasingly looks to be a significantly miserable marriage. As the arguments start, and buddy-bonding suddenly seems much more meaningful than impending vows, they experience a couple's worst dream come true--discovering their true incompatibility within scant days of the ceremony itself.

To laugh or to squirm? There's abundant humor, but director Nancy Savoca isn't afraid to wipe the smile off the movie's face when the pain cuts too deep. And she will leave it up to you whether or not to find dark comedy in the misguided litany of support from family and friends. "Once you two are on your honeymoon and can relax, you'll be fine" and "You'll see, after the wedding, he'll settle down," they rationalize helpfully, a Bronx chorus of denial.

Early on, it's easy to see what Michael, a Peter Pan who plays at responsibility, and Donna, who wants to drag him kicking into adulthood, see in each other. They're the prettiest and probably spunkiest of their fast-talking circle. It's also easy to identify with the mutual irritations that develop and, if sympathy eventually sidles over toward her nagging efforts to grow him up, that's less a feminist viewpoint being foisted than a realistic one. (The contrast between the boys' drunken spree and the vengeful girls' night out is amusingly clear; the women can't have quite as grand a time, never having been taught how to lose themselves so completely.)

The movie ends with a long take of the trussed-up, shell-shocked newlyweds that echoes the final shot of "The Graduate," but there's far less doubt about what life together for this couple will be like, only how much of a fight they'll put up getting there.

It's a kind of fatalism, the planned obsolescence of affection, that may be hard for some audiences to identify with, but in this tightknit Italian culture, divorce or even calling off the wedding are hardly options. In one candid moment, Donna confesses to a pal that she's considered breaking the engagement, but, now, "I can't live here if I don't marry him."

If none of this sounds like the stuff punchlines are made of, in lieu of easy laughs there are plenty of hard-won, subtle, difficult ones coming right out of character. "True Love" also provides the expected wicked hilarity when it comes to satirizing wedding rituals (like the visit to the family friend who pitches $3,000 "hair-loom" rings).

Yet each time you suspect Savoca is finally setting up the big comic set-piece or a slide into sentimentality, she veers off on an altogether more difficult course. Along with her co-writer and husband, Richard Guay, she's fashioned a brave, astonishingly perceptive comic drama rife with perfect details and engaging subplots. Most likely, it's the debut of a major film maker.

Among the cast of unknowns are easily half a dozen playful performances far more Oscar-worthy than the winter's big-budget Academy bait, with radiant Sciorra the most immediate find, and Eldard and Kelly Cinnante (who co-starred in "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" on the New York stage) also dead-on. They make it feel like real life that's being eavesdropped on, but Savoca and her upstart technical crew make it look and sound like a movie , too, one you'd swear must have cost several times what this triumph of low-budget invention actually did.

"True Love" (rated R for ample profanity) is, among so many other things, a classic cautionary tale of co-dependency, almost sure to help bring on the end of more than one troubled engagement out in audienceland. See it with someone you love too much.

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