Welcome back to L.A. The title of Bruce Wagner’s directorial debut is a reference to hazy mobile-phone connections and, more heavy-handedly, to the unstable relationships of some sorry inhabitants of Holly wood. Wagner has adapted his sharp and wide-reaching 1996 novel by reconfiguring five characters into one family and foisting far too much of the book’s plot detail upon them.
Perry (Frank Langella), the hugely successful TV producer of a show that eerily resembles Star Trek (“May you wander and wonder with the stars”), has just found out he’s dying. Rachel (Rosanna Arquette), his adopted daughter, learns her parents weren’t killed in a car crash after all and delves into her Jewish roots. Failed actor Bertie (Andrew McCarthy) dotes on his sickly sweet
daughter and woos HIV-positive Aubrey (Elizabeth Perkins). Perry’s wife, Diantha (Salome Jens), meanwhile has little to do, even as Perry initiates an affair with an English actress on his show (Amanda Donohoe).
From here we get death, more betrayal, and more death. These events are all supposed to be attributable to Hollywood’s toxicity. More likely, Wagner thought he needed some drama to drive his movie along. But as Rachel describes some revelation she’s unearthed, “It’s like television Strindberg.” The film then devolves into TV-movie land, complete with treacly
music and tearful goodbyes.
That said, the cast is uniformly solid, with an impressive turn by Perkins (in a role that’s overly but somehow refreshingly hard-bitten) and all-too-brief bits by Buck Henry and Laraine Newman. Wagner also has plenty of good one-liners (like Bertie’s commentary on his
acting career—”I’m too cable, not too mention boyish and endearing”). Where the novel was stuffed with references to then current Hollywood projects and stars (with a few making walk-on appearances), the film is full of quotations from movies and literature. Emily Dickinson’s “First—chill—then stupor—then the letting go” is given at least three readings, and it ends up approximating the movie’s effect.