Model Behavior


Billed as a romantic comedy, The Young Girl and the Monsoon is neither particularly romantic nor especially funny. It is instead a portrait of the artist as a midlife crisis, or would like to be. Hank is a hotshot photojournalist with a girlfriend, Erin, who is 13 years his junior and also happens to be a model. Meanwhile, his 13-year-old daughter, Constance, moves in when Hank’s unfaithful ex-wife heads off for a long honeymoon. Our hero is also up for a prestigious award, whingingly ambivalent about his career, casually enmeshed with his boss, and facing 40.

The dream is to bring all these story lines together, leaving Hank, perfectly integrated New Man, at the heart of a reconstructed nuclear family and generally ready for the world. But writer-director James Ryan is too sweet on his characters, or perhaps his actors, to sketch their arcs with sufficient stringency. We get instead a foreshortened boy-loses-model/boy-gets-model-back story periodically bumping into an incomplete single-dad/adolescent-daughter/hysteria-ensues tale, while a few other characters circle about trying to attract attention.

As Hank, Steppenwolf principal Terry Kinney gives pretty good perplexed fury; daughter Ellen Muth gives wildly excessive perplexed gawkiness. Mili Avital gives good model but just seems perplexed by her lines. Only Diane Venora, as Hank’s boss, gives terrific performance. Veering between slick crime flicks and modernist Shakespeare remakes, Venora has grown into the fiercest actress in her cohort, all edges and tawdry hauteur. She’s Jessica Lange without the cushion of luminosity.

The movie is set in a Woody-inflected Manhattanland where semi-intellectuals float through a world of unexplained affluence, wives are evil, and balding guys are extremely lucky with young beauties. But hiding underneath such patent wish-fulfillment is the potentially engaging New York story of how a kid goes about deducing the rules of sexual engagement from a bunch of adults who don’t have a clue themselves. Could even be a romantic comedy.