Monday, 30 September 2013

Movie Review: Murphy's Romance (1985)


A simple love story, Murphy's Romance delivers vanilla entertainment in a wholesome package that alternates between old-fashioned and trite. Sally Field and James Garner are more about comfort than passion, two pros delivering proficient performances without ever stretching.

Thirty-something single-mom Emma (Field) and her son Jake (Corey Haim) have been buffeted by life, and drive up to a small rural Arizona town to attempt another new start. Resourceful and independent but struggling to secure a bank loan, Emma meets widower Murphy Jones (Garner), nominally the local grocery store owner but also the heart and soul of the town. Full of wisdom and edgy serenity, Murphy lives according to his own rules, and everyone respects him for it.

Murphy, who is much older than Emma but never reveals his age, gives her a helping hand to launch a business caring for horses, and they start to get close. But when Emma's ex-husband Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin) shows up broke and looking to leech off Emma's fledgling success, Murphy realizes that he has competition in his languid pursuit of Emma's heart.

Murphy's Romance is nothing if not pleasant, an amiable Winter - Summer relationship that builds up at a slow but enjoyable pace. But despite all the personality offered by Field and Garner, there is no hiding how thin the material is. The humour is mild, the drama lukewarm, and for long stretches the movie resembles Norman Rockwell paintings set in slow motion, the polite folks of small town America witnessing a couple falling in love, and not much more.

Director Martin Ritt looks around to find tension but finds little to work with. The introduction of ex-husband Bobby Jack as a disruptive elements is too predictable, and even then the search for feel-good charm wins out: Bobby Jack's more unsavoury traits are balanced out by his earnest efforts to make a good impression. Any potential for a down and dirty fight over Emma's heart is abruptly resolved as Bobby Jack is unceremoniously shuffled out of the movie.

Murphy's Romance is left with two agreeable if unspectacular central performances. Field tones her girl-next-door sweetness in favour of some appreciated world weariness. Garner is easily the best thing in the movie, the character of Murphy Jones having long since sorted what matters from what does not in his life, and Garner is a perfect fit to dispense Murphy's wisdom in small, unobtrusive drops. Murphy's Romance may be a bit dull, but at least Murphy's insight is sharp.






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