The earliest months of the film year are brutally hard to get through. The problem is lessened by the quality offerings from the prior calendar year that dribble into smaller markets in fits and starts, but most films that get their initial, often widespread release in the months January and February (and even into the spring) are largely the weaker material that studios felt couldn’t compete in Oscar season or weren’t worth holding back for the highly charged summer season. That’s still the case, but it was even more pronounced back in the early nineteen-nineties, before the release schedule started shifting to make room for year-round blockbusters. So when something special arrived within the first few weeks of a new year, it was cause for jubilation. To further put it in perspective, on the episode of The Reel Thing that this review is culled from, the film we covered in the preceding segment was The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter. Worth noting: the cumbersome lead sentence indicates that I still had trouble remembering during the writing process that I would actually have to read this stuff on air. I was also evidently struggling with the definition of the word “unquestionably.”
One of the true joys of seeing movies is when the opportunity arises to watch one that is so well written the dialogue virtually resonates with the sharp spark or reality and the characters are as fascinating as your best friends. That opportunity has come in the form of ONCE AROUND, an unquestionably splendid new film. ONCE AROUND features a close-knit Boston family and show what happens when some new, strange element interferes with their love for each other. That element is represented by Richard Dreyfuss in a marvelous performance as a salesman who falls in love with Renata Bella, played by Holly Hunter. He showers her with gifts and affection and does the same for her family. Hunter is delighted. Her family, on the other hand, has some problems with this smooth-talking businessman. Initially, they fall under his spell as well, but his brand of arrogant charm begins to upset them and tear the family apart. Credit screenwriter Malia Scotch Marmo for creating a group of characters that are never predictable or boring. And the way the sequences of family interaction are written are brilliantly effective. ONCE AROUND also features an outstanding ensemble cast. Besides Dreyfuss and Hunter, the film also features Laura San Giacomo in a terrifically subtle performance as Hunter’s sister, Danton Stone as their brother, and Gena Rowlands and Danny Aiello as the parents. Smart, memorable performances from all of them. The film deals with emotion but never slips into sentiment. The filmmakers instead bring us a movie that fills the screen with more honest love than you would ever think possible. ONCE AROUND is a film to be cherished.