Friday, May 21, 2010

Film Review: "Love Ranch"

“Love Ranch”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Taylor Hackford
Producer(s): E1 Entertainment International
Screenplay: Mark Jacobsen
Main players: Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, and Sergio Peris-Mencheta

Helen Mirren, brothel Madam.
Not the two words you would usually associate with the Oscar-award winning Dame of the British realm, yet Mirren makes the leap from Queen Elizabeth II to Nevada brothel owner, Grace Bontempo, in Taylor Hackford’s recent film “Love Ranch,” which made its market premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last week. With a colorful supporting cast including Gina Gershon and Taryn Manning, the film follows Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Mirren and Pesci) as they run the first legal brothel, the Love Ranch, in 1976 Nevada. While perhaps an unlikely vehicle for Hackford, who’s last directorial venture was “Ray” in 2004, his partnership with Mirren could be the culprit for his sign on to the project. Like the Bontempos, Mirren and Hackford share a partnership that has lasted since 1986, a rare commodity in today’s marital climate. Nonetheless, it is Hackford’s direction of the film that makes what sounds like another installment of the sleazy Home Box Office (HBO) series, “Cathouse” (which captures the daily ups and downs of the Bunny Ranch in Nevada), actually plausible and dramatically entertaining. “Love Ranch” at its core is a coming of age story about an older woman, recently diagnosed with cancer, who must come to terms with her disease.

The film begins with Mirren, sporting a sleek red bob, confessing to the audience, “my mother always told me, if you are good at something, you will be successful.” (What an opening line!) As the titles role, we are transported to the Love Ranch’s 1976 New Year’s celebration. Our first glance of Mirren is from the neck down as she hobbles through the lounge with a cane in hand (very fitting for the environment.) Hackford pulls away to reveal Mirren looking vaguely similar to Tammy Faye Messner with her red hair piled on top of her head in a very 1970’s up-doo. Charlie is introduced to thunderous applause and Pesci, dressed in a purple leisure suit with matching cowboy hat and boots, takes the stage. Pesci, the great character actor of crime moguls, is up to his usual tricks in his role as Charlie. It as if he has aged to perfection and Jacobsen’s dialogue allows Pesci to open up like a good reserve wine. While it takes him several tries, Pesci finally manages to get “his better half,” Grace, on stage. Finally Mirren joins Pesci and we get a sense of their union.

The marriage between the two, while rough around the edges (Charlie is a known bed partner to many of the ladies of the Ranch), is based on a strong partnership, of which Grace is the engineer behind the operation whilst Charlie is the face of the brothel; yet after learning she has cancer, Grace’s disease threatens to undermine their partnership seeing as she cannot tell Charlie of her illness. As Pesci’s “Charlie” succeeds in the brothel business, he looks for other ways to spend his revenues and invests in an Argentinean boxer, Armando Bruza (Peris-Mencheta). Lacking the time to properly manage Bruza, Charlie leaves Grace in charge of the heavyweight and the two embark on an unlikely romance.

In his first major screen appearance, Sergio Peris-Mencheta triumphs as the fallen bowing hero. After succumbing to addictions of success, which consequently lead to the deaths of his wife and young son, Bruza hopes to use this opportunity from “Charlie Goodtimes” as he refers to Pesci, as a means to redeem himself from his past failures. Grace finds this endearing, and the two share a cute scene during which Bruza teaches Grace how to manage a fighter. Not getting the attention she needs from Charlie, Bruza steps in and, despite the vast age difference between the two, fills that void sexually. What began as a fling becomes a far more serious relationship after Bruza suffers a significant head injury during his first major fight. Grace drives Bruza, who is covered in sweat and blood, to the hospital only to learn that he has a metal plate in his head and cannot fight anymore. Grace, heartbroken, returns to the Ranch to find Charlie in a state of anger, citing her disappearance following the fight as the cause. To tired to argue, Grace retires to her room and is later awoken by Bruza, who fled the hospital after learning he needed brain surgery. Like Grace, Bruza is dying too, and they find solace in their encroaching deaths. Grace, knowing her death with destroy Charlie, decides to flee with Bruza, however Charlie becomes an obstacle they cannot cross.

“Love Ranch,” which opens in the States in July, is packed with strong performances across the board; however Mirren and Pesci are the reason to see this film. Mirren’s performance as Grace Bontempo is sure to be a hit with the over-forty crowd, and her romance with the younger, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, proves that while many attempts have been made to bury the term in pop culture, the cougar is alive an well. Long may she reign.

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