Hail, hail, Hope Davis! Wouldn’t blonde-crazy Alfred Hitchcock have gone psycho to have her crisp, cool intelligence and on-screen elegance? The superb New York–based actress has played, among other roles, the tough-cookie lead in the Boston-shot Next Stop Wonderland (1998) and Jack Nicholson’s frazzled daughter in About Schmidt (2002). But 2003 is the truly amazing year.
Davis ventured to the Fifth Provincetown International Film Festival in mid June with her Sundance premieres, American Splendor and The Secret Life of Dentists, both of which are set to open in theaters this summer. These are the two best American features of 2003 so far, and Hope Davis is the stunning lead in both. Will she do a Julianne Moore at next year’s Oscars and be up for two Academy Awards?
I’d seen Davis in American Splendor at Cannes in May and briefly interviewed her about playing so splendidly, beneath a jet-black wig, Joyce Brabner, the real-life spouse of real-person cartoonist Harvey Pekar. But The Secret Life of Dentists, directed by Alan Rudolph from a Jane Smiley novella, is a revelation. It’s a hurtful, adult suburban love-hate story in which Davis and Campbell Scott are share-an-office dentists, Dana and Dave Hurst, whose marriage is unraveling. He’s unable to communicate; she, in reaction, may or may not be having an affair. Each time they’re about to break through and talk, their needy young daughters steal their attention.
Festival guests Davis and Scott answered questions after the Provincetown screening. Many audience members praised the intensity of their performances while interacting with three children bouncing in the frame. "We think the three girls are amazing," said Scott. (They are.) "We found them all in one day of casting."
"The kids bonded very quickly," said Davis. "They were so noisy, so rambunctious. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. These kids were so much to handle." Added Scott: "It made us parents even if we wanted not to be."
How did Davis react to seeing The Secret Life of Dentists at Provincetown? "I get very sad when I watch this film and all these people fall apart. I love my character even if I hate her sometimes on screen."
And the fifth P-Town Fest? It was enormous fun, with the best vibe. Entertaining movies, democratic parties, a fabulous tribute to filmmaker Todd Haynes, and really great, enthusiastic audiences, many deeply appreciative of the abundant homosexual-friendly programming. This was, everyone concurred, the breakthrough year. The Lower Cape went fest-crazy, and many of the showings (there were six venues, including Provincetown’s Town Hall) were sellouts.
Here are reports on three gay-themed entries of note:
Ghostlight, the chancy opening-night film (in place of something feel-good and easily digestible), proved an audience winner. Director Christopher Herrmann’s experimental biographic homage to Martha Graham stars New York performance artist Richard Move as the dance legend. In high drag. Although there are funny moments (Graham was an explosive, over-the-top character!), Ghostlight is a reverent homage, taking both Graham and her high-modernist pronouncements seriously. And Move, who’s brought his Martha to Boston and Jacob’s Pillow, is a formidable performer and a brilliant choreographer. What he’s designed for the movie is extraordinary, some of the best modern dancing ever on screen.
(Any resemblances between Move’s Martha Graham and Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond are, however, entirely coincidental. "Martha once met Gloria Swanson," explained Herrmann, who was employed by Graham during the last five years of her life. "Believe it or not, Martha was the one frightened of Gloria!")
The Event has been a while in the making — it took 10 years for the screenwriters to attract a director (The Hanging Garden’s Thom Fitzgerald) and bring together a first-rate ensemble of actors (Parker Posey, Sarah Polley, Olympia Dukakis, Don McKellar) for this well-received story of a dying AIDS victim (McKellar) who arranges a final party before drifting away by means of a suicide aided by his friends and relatives. Provincetown was the perfect screening place: the five men in the row in front of me were all bawling as the movie concluded. It is in places a bit clumsy, a bit too earnest, but it has a cumulative emotional power.
And "Looking for Mr. Right" is an amusing four-minute short by Boston filmmaker David Young in which a guy on the make sights the hottie-of-his-dreams across a male disco floor. Little does he realize that he’s cruising Narcissus.
Gerald Peary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org