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Strong Currents Rip at Mother-Daughter Relationship in 'High Tide'

June 04, 1992|DOUG LIST

It's rare to find a film that features women as its main characters, and it's even more unusual to discover one that deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter. In Hollywood, mothers and daughters in recent years have been dealt with mostly in terminal-illness soap operas ("Terms of Endearment" and "Steel Magnolias") or mother-as-best-friend comedies ("Mermaids").

Not only does "High Tide" deal seriously with a mother-daughter relationship, but it also is a film whose writing is intelligent and true and one that features a moving performance by the great Australian actress Judy Davis. Without flash or histrionics, it is an emotionally powerful film.

Davis plays Lilli, a thirtysomething backup singer for a hilariously bad Aussie Elvis imitator who summarily fires her for not taking the job seriously. Then her car breaks down, stranding her in a trailer park in a gloomy seaside town.

Between daylong drunks and night gigs as a stripper at the local lodge, she befriends a preteen surfer girl who turns out, in Dickensian coincidence, to be the daughter Lilli abandoned as a baby after Lilli's husband died.

This discovery prompts Lilli to reconsider the vagabond life she's been leading since the death of her husband. Before taking the stage to earn some money by stripping, Lilli tells her mother-in-law, who has reared Lilli's daughter in her absence: "You know, I've always thought that I lived a kind of an adventurous, brave kind of a life, but I haven't really. I've been a coward."

Davis, with her deep-set eyes, pasty complexion and dark stringy hair, exemplifies female Angst about as well as any actress around. She won critical praise for her performances last year in "Barton Fink" and "Naked Lunch," but she is best known for her Oscar-nominated work in "A Passage to India" and her previous collaboration with "High Tide" director Gillian Armstrong in the great Australian film "My Brilliant Career."

There's a scene in "High Tide" set in Lilli's car in which she tries to explain to her daughter how she could have deserted her and stopped loving her. The halting, painful exchange is raw and moving and, like the rest of this fine film, an unflinching look at a woman trying to understand herself. This little-seen gem is one of the most underrated movies of recent years.

"High Tide" (1987), directed by Gillian Armstrong. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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