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MOVIE REVIEW : A Comical 'Night We Never Met' : Warren Leight's film is a delightful romantic comedy of errors about time-sharing a Greenwich Village apartment.

April 30, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "The Night We Never Met" (citywide), Warren Leight's deft and delightful romantic comedy of errors, Brian (Kevin Anderson), a young Manhattan stockbroker, has moved in with his fiancee (Justine Bateman) but holds on to his own apartment in a fine old Greenwich Village townhouse.

Two days a week he rents it to Sam (Matthew Broderick), who works at the cheese counter at the swanky Dean & DeLuca gourmet grocery. Ellen (Annabella Sciorra), a dental hygienist, also takes two days. This way Brian has a place where he can get away and watch the football games with his office pals, while Sam can escape momentarily from an overcrowded East Village dump he's been sharing with innumerable other guys after breaking up with his girlfriend, a silly, pretentious French actress (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Stuck in a dull marriage to a Queens laundry owner (Michael Mantell), Ellen will now have a place of her own to which she can escape and pursue her love of painting.

Brian, Sam and Ellen have never met, but the latter two begin leaving notes to each other. Ellen appreciates Sam's decor in his portion of the apartment and also his equally tasteful leftovers. Having started fantasizing about Sam as the man of her dreams, she gets up her nerve to show up looking her glamorous best on one of the evenings when the apartment belongs to Sam--not realizing Brian has made a switch in the schedule. The calamity that swiftly ensues with a zingy domino effect is beautifully sustained by writer Leight in an exceptionally assured directorial debut. Leight, however, simultaneously enlarges upon his farcical plot by allowing us to see that there's more to care about these people, Sam and Ellen especially, than we might well have expected.

Leight is a man of compassion as well as sophistication: For example, Brian can be a terrible boor and a slob, a superannuated fraternity boy, yet is finally not really such a bad guy. Ellen's husband and Sam's French actress are ripe for comeuppance, yet they're recognizably human and vulnerable. But then Leight clearly cares about all his people, which means that more than 30 actors shine as brightly as the film's stars.

Most notable are Christine Baranski's ditsy sister to Ellen, Doris Roberts and Dominic Chianese's nosy neighbors, Louise Lasser's conscientious realtor, Richard Poe's smooth, macho bartender, Ranjit Chowdhry's excitable cabby and an unbilled Garry Shandling as a nervous patient of Ellen's. One of "The Night We Never Met's" (rated R for language and some sex) strongest assets is Lester Cohen's inspired, knowing production design, which never calls attention to itself while speaking volumes about Leight's people.

'The Night We Never Met'

Matthew Broderick: Sam Lester

Annabella Sciorra: Ellen Holder

Kevin Anderson: Brian McVeigh

Jeanne Tripplehorn: Pastel

Justine Bateman: Janet Beehan

A Miramax Films presentation. Writer-director Warren Leight. Producer Michael Peyser. Executive producers Stanley Kimmel, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Cinematographer John A. Thomas. Editor Camilla Toniolo. Costumes Ellen Lutter. Music Evan Lurie. Production design Lester Cohen. Art director Daniel Talpers. Set decorator Jessica Lanier. Sound William Sarokin. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language, some sex).

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