When the Berry family were together at home the kids used to implore their father Win (Beau Bridges) to tell them the story of how he and their mother (Lisa Banes) met. They were working at a hotel and when a certain Freud (Wallace Shawn) came over from Austria to stay he brought his bear with him, a bear that liked to ride his motorbike. When Freud encountered anti-Semitism in America he decided he would be better off at home, but before he left he sold the bear to Win. Win dreamed of running his own hotel, but not every story has a happy ending, and it wasn't happy for the bear...
As far as John Irving adaptations went, The World According to Garp was the one which had won the plaudits, and was perhaps the reason his Hotel New Hampshire was put into production in the hope that it would receive a similarly warm welcome. It was not to be, and director Tony Richardson's script reduced what might have read like a proper story in the book to a series of incidents that made the film look like a sketch show with recurring characters. Determinedly eccentric, it was like watching those characters share a jape that was lost on the viewer.
However, like Garp it did find its own cult following, both of people who had enjoyed the novel and were pleased to see it acted out, and from those fans who enjoyed watching their favourite stars and character actors in such unusual material. Unfortunately, the correct tone to bring this all together was never found, so we had to endure ker-ay-zee set-ups mixed with scenes of a gang rape and child suicide, all wrapped up with pat homilies. Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe played brother and sister Frannie and John whose love for each other went uncomfortably beyond convention, and John, as our narrator, was presumably supposed to be a way into all this clique-y incident, but there he fails.
This might be because Lowe wasn't up to the task, and it's true he is particularly weak here, but I doubt there would be many actors of his generation capable. The Berry family do open the hotel of the title, and it is a qualified success, but after various adventures which have, for instance, John losing his virginty to a waitress-prostitute his father has hired (Anita Morris), they all up sticks to Vienna and open another hotel under Freud. There they meet his friend Susie the Bear, not a real bear but Nastassja Kinski in a bear suit, and her presence explains the appeal of the film to some Foster fans.
It's not a big plot point, and in truth it's hard to work out what precisely is supposed to be a major plot point here, but Frannie and Susie have an affair, one of the few instances of lesbianism in Foster's filmography. It's not much, just a kiss while in bed, but her gay fans took what they could get; a film featuring an affair between these two might have been a good idea in 1984, but it's lost amongst this avalanche of happenings which go on to have terrorists nearly blow everyone up and the youngest sister Lilly (Jennifer Dundas) become a best-selling author. If a film that takes in comedy sound effects, a constantly farting dog and incestuous sex sounds like your thing, then dive in, it's different, but for the rest of us Hotel New Hampshire's relentless smugness and feeling of in-jokes without punchlines results in an unlovely shambles.