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  White Palace Heaven Knows What They'd Call Her These Days
Year: 1990
Director: Luis Mandoki
Stars: Susan Sarandon, James Spader, Jason Alexander, Kathy Bates, Eileen Brennan, Steven Hill, Rachel Chagall, Corey Parker, Renée Taylor, Jonathan Penner, Barbara Howard, Kim Myers, Hildy Brooks, Mitzi McCall, K.C. Carr, Maria Pitillo, Jeremy Piven
Genre: RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Max Baron (James Spader) has been invited to a bachelor party of a good friend of his, but he doesn't feel as if he can really enjoy himself, and when he gets there to discover the restaurant that delivered the burgers has messed up their order, he sees a way out and insists on going back to the establishment and demanding a refund, his pals telling him he should let it go and it doesn't really matter. When he arrives at the White Palace diner, he gets into an argument with the waitress, Nora Baker (Susan Sarandon), but she eventually senses he is sincere and gives him the money back; after returning to the party, he is reminded of the reason he is so out of sorts, and ends up drowning his sorrows alone in a bar...

Which just so happens to be the bar where Nora is, also drinking alone, and she attempts to reconcile by chatting Max up, much to his bemusement. This was a film which posited a May to September romance is not an impossibility, and though it was compared to The Graduate thanks to the age difference between the two lovers, that film was very much sceptical about such a relationship prospering (or indeed any relationship), and White Palace, drawn from Glenn Savan's novel, was more optimistic. If anything, it wasn't the age difference that threatened the couple, it was their class difference, with Max the upper middle and Nora the working, which gives rise to an important question: how do they prevent embarrassment?

What was novel here was that in a Hollywood movie it was not so unusual for the leading lady to be younger than the leading man, sometimes significantly, which spoke to a certain sexism in the industry. This saw White Palace welcomed as a breath of fresh air in some quarters, and it assuredly courted the female demographic who were perhaps not as young as they used to be, though that was not to say they neglected everyone but them. The trouble was, in presentation the film behaved as if this connection between the two partners was somehow shocking and daring, when it might have been more effective if it had simply accepted it as a matter of course, and explored the attraction that way.

There was a touch of the soap opera about the plotline and especially the dialogue that was just about rescued by some keen acting from Sarandon and Spader, who came across as very comfortable in the message of allowing love to blossom even in the less likely circumstances, and they had a nice chemistry with each other, Spader's preppy quality here channelled into something more sympathetic than he had played throughout the nineteen-eighties, basically an entitled cad. As for Sarandon, she played up a Southern accent and embraced the earthiness required to convince us that Max would be drawn to Nora on a sexual level (the actual sex scenes were particularly lusty, to the point of parody in some moments), but also that he would find great affection for her when he realised they had more in common than he might expect.

That was down to Max having lost his wife at an early age, and still struggling to get over it, while Nora has lost her son, so similarly bereaved they decide they can comfort each other as much as they satisfy each other physically. The main issue is that shame, where Max cannot admit to his social circle that he is seeing a woman seventeen years older than he is, and who works as a waitress, though there's a growing hint that his friends would be a lot more accepting than either he or Nora would care to admit. The poster for White Palace showed Spader burying his face in Sarandon's bosom, playing up the raunch angle, but it was actually more interested in this reconciliation between two such different people, and how pleasing it was they would find such succour in one another's company. It was far too hung up on itself to be judged a complete success, but the two leads and some sympathetic performances from a supporting cast who included Eileen Brennan and Katy Bates (the women were the sounding boards for how we should react) contributed to the overall sincerity. Music by George Fenton (which does get unnecessarily cheesy).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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