Readers of a certain age will remember the sordid story of Errol Flynn’s liaison with a 15 year old show-biz wannabe - not so much for that prurient behavior on the part of a fading movie star, as for the facilitating behavior of the young girl’s mother. Flo Aadland, played by Susan Sarandon is really the focus of this movie as she gives her version of events to the writer who is penning the “great love story” of an alcoholic, drug-addicted roue and Beverly, a girl reared to enact her mother’s failed dreams. As played by Dakota Fanning, Beverly is a passive, dutiful daughter who’s been working since she was three and has none of the fire or ambition associated with performers of exceptional talent. Her father recognizes her for a chorus girl at best, but Flo, like Rose in Gypsy has bigger dreams and sacrifices her home, her marriage and her child for the illusion of stardom.
The problem with this movie is that it’s too hard for audiences to buy into this tepid account of Beverly’s sexual immaturity with Flo claiming that she was a virgin before Flynn seduced her. We know that she was dancing in Las Vegas at the age of 13 and that she’s been a bit part chorus girl in Hollywood by the age of 15; in the days of rampant casting couch practices, the story makes no sense. The reality of Flo tagging along as chaperone while her daughter beds a man more than three times her age in the room next door is too sordid and perverted for us to accommodate to the chipper performance of Sarandon and the very underplayed performance by Dakota Fanning. Kevin Kline does a fine job of capturing the speech and mannerisms of Errol Flynn though some of the “madcap shtick” he’s required to do remains foolishly amateurish and belies the romantic swagger of his film persona. Similarly, the scenes of a party in New York, an impromptu star turn at the middle-class home of a doctor and a birthday party for Beverly are all poorly staged and look more like old tv sitcoms than a star-studded movie.
Playing a man who’s not yet 50, Kline looks too old for the part, something not completely in sync even with a man as dissipated as Errol Flynn. Interestingly, the photograph of Flo Aadland shown at the end of the movie reveals a witchier looking woman than Susan Sarandon is made up to be - that character would have been far more understandable as Beverly’s mother and would have provided the visual key to understanding Flo’s behavior. Sarandon’s softness, Fanning’s placidity and Kline’s facial life-lines are at cross-currents with the characters whose story is being told. Considering that this preceded the Roman Polanski trial by two decades, the movie deserves a much grittier treatment than it gets.
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