As a child Marina (Demi Moore) discovered she was clairvoyant and grew up believing she was destined to marry the man of her dreams. A man whose face she never saw but would one day arrive at the shore by her grandmother’s lighthouse. Which is why when less-than-handsome butcher Leo Lemke (George Dzundza) appears at the beach, Marina accepts fate and promptly becomes his wife. She moves to Leo’s home in New York City where her uncanny psychic gifts prove a big hit helping lovelorn local women find happiness. Marina’s magical presence both infuriates and infatuates stolid psychiatrist Alex Tremor (Jeff Daniels) who might just be the real love of her life.
If you are looking for a way to connect Demi Moore with the Two Ronnies, for some arcane reason, then look no further than The Butcher’s Wife, the sole feature outing for British director Terry Hughes. Hughes directed five seasons of the beloved comic showcase with Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, before relocating to America in the Eighties where he became a sitcom stalwart with the likes of The Golden Girls, Friends and Third Rock from the Sun. Indeed parts of The Butcher’s Wife have the feel of a sitcom pilot, albeit featuring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at that time. Demi Moore dyed her famously raven locks blonde for her role in this film and exudes a genuinely beguiling, otherworldly aura matching lustrous golden hues woven by cinematographer Frank Tidy. Though critics at the time were less than kind, Moore actually delivers a lively, even radiant performance. Grappling bravely with a North Carolina accent, her surprising flair for quirky comedy sparks well off the similarly winning turn from Jeff Daniels as the boyishly flustered psychiatrist who grows increasingly manic through romantic frustration.
With vivid characters and an appealingly drawn neighbourhood where it appears people of all cultural backgrounds and sexual persuasions are welcome, The Butcher’s Wife is one of those instances where the peripheral details are so charming one can’t help but wish that the film were a whole lot better. What really should have been a straightforward but accessible fable about the clash between psychoanalysis and empathy as means for unravelling the mysteries of the human heart, instead veers off on strange tangents including a lesbian sub-plot that comes out of nowhere and Leo’s guilt-ridden affair with mousy music teacher Stella Keefover (Mary Steenburgen). That’s right, even though Leo is married to Demi Moore playing the world’s nicest woman, after just three days he grows disillusioned with her mystic wisdom and starts playing away.
As comedies go this is exceedingly genteel with a magical realist tone that will either wear out its welcome or charm you into submission. If the pace were any slower it would be oil on canvas yet somehow the film remains watchable thanks to the engaging central relationship and overall air of sweet-natured romance. It helps that Hughes assembled a fine roster of gifted character actors to inhabit the eccentric supporting cast, with Francis McDormand, Margaret Colin and the aforementioned Mary Steenburgen making the most of their few moments in the spotlight. Under Marina’s influence, the latter undergoes a crowd-pleasing glamorous transformation and gets a rare and welcome chance to showcase her singing talent performing some blues standards. It is worth noting that had The Butcher’s Wife been a French or Spanish film, its eccentric tone and wayward narrative might not seem as strange but within the more rigid parameters of a mainstream romantic-comedy, it is a little too ephemeral to really work. The theme song: “Love Moves in Mysterious Ways” performed by Julia Fordham proved a bigger hit than the movie.