What could have been

There was a picture of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in leather gear a few years ago I have searched and searched and cannot find this on the net. It's a great photo, so I can't imagine why not. But like this missing-in-action photo, sexuality among older people is not something we really get to see.

Never Again deals with a couple (Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Clayburgh) who find each other at a point in their lives when they are swearing off the bullshit - as they perceive it - that goes along with romantic relationships. They set out to have a sexual relationship only, but human nature kicks in and it starts getting messy anyway.

These are excellent actors with what should be interesting material. Jill Clayburgh in particular has been underappreciated in recent years. Alas, the scenes of their awkward stumbling through adult-oriented stores and leather, are painfully awkward to the audience as well. It's not exactly an unwillingness to embrace the material, which is the most likely thing, but an imbalance in the story and the characters. The feelings of the film are real, but fail to achieve the high points of either a plot-driven or a character-driven piece. Sure, the relationship can be muddled to them, but it can't be so muddled to the audience. We end up with a distance from the characters that leaves us ambivalent about how things are going to turn out.

All this points at the director, Eric Schaeffer, who also happens to be the writer. I like the material he seems to be drawn to (see also If Lucy Fell), but directing doesn't seem to be his forté. Just watch the day players - those actors whose characters aren't usually lucky enough to have names. They stand there, dead, awaiting some kind of direction, until a main character deigns to interact with them.

What redeeming value there is in the film comes from Tambor and Clayburgh. Where we are allowed to see it, they do have chemistry, and definitely the sincerity to pull off this kind of story.

It's all too bad. This could have been a good film, maybe even a pivotal one with some story polishing. Now how long until someone else tries this sort of thing?

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