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‘See You in the Morning’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 21, 1989

In "See You in the Morning," Jeff Bridges moves though his scenes with an expression of vague worry, like a man who's misplaced his keys and keeps patting his pockets, hoping that somehow they'll magically reappear.

Bridges plays Larry Livingston, a Manhattan psychiatrist trying to keep his balance on the shifting domestic ground of wives and frowning offspring. At the beginning of the film he's with his wife Jo (Farrah Fawcett), a superstar cover girl, and their two adorable kids. And the opening shots of these beautiful children with their beautiful mom present them as master race material -- a sort of Uber-family, in the aristocratic, Ralph Lauren mode. They're perfect -- so perfect that you know something has to be wrong.

Something is wrong and, soon, the family is in pieces and Daddy is about to marry someone new and start all over again. Ostensibly a comedy of modern manners, "See You in the Morning" is about the chaotic, partner-switching family life of the '80s and, watching it, you feel as if you are being "Donahued" to death. The film has a sort of waxy buildup of warmth and sentiment -- it practically has LET'S HUG! stamped on every frame. Written and directed by Alan Pakula, it chronicles the troubled histories of two families, the Livingstons and the Goodwins, each in its own way insufferably accomplished. The second clan is headed by Peter (David Dukes), a world-acclaimed pianist who, early on, kills himself because of his failure to recover from a paralyzing hand injury, leaving behind his dedicated wife Beth (Alice Krige) and their two children Cathy and Peter (Drew Barrymore and Lukas Haas).

Still reeling from his divorce, Larry is introduced to Beth by their mutual friend, Sidney (Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Linda Lavin), who describes her as a saint, "the only kind of woman who'd have anything to do with you." But the last thing Larry appears to be is a handful. Larry is more the homey, good-husband type -- faithful, attentive, safe. And when Beth overhears him giving out his home number to one of his patients, she melts. Men are men, but a good bedside manner is hard to find.

The structure of the film is glibly elliptical. At the slightest provocation, one of the characters will stare off into space pensively, prompting yet another poignant flashback. From such moments we discover that Beth, who once had dreams of being a photographer but instead became a devoted helpmate to her genius husband and a doting mother to her kids, isn't the type for easy banter. Beth has a natural elegance, but there's something haggard and withdrawn in her expression. Guilt, we learn, is the reason. Having done everything humanly possible for her family, she berates herself for not doing more.

As a type, Beth is easy to identify, but that's about all she is -- an easily identifiable type. Self-punishing and feeling unworthy of anyone's love, she pushes Larry away -- not because she wants to but because she's afraid of happiness. When Larry confronts her on this, you can't believe that Pakula would dare just to dump this unprocessed psycho-drivel at our feet.

Is there anything more horribly '80s than a couple brought together by a migraine? Pakula is working hard here to deal fully and honestly and entertainingly with recognizable issues that have genuine social resonance, but why is his treatment so uninspired, so bland? There's a hunger for films about lovers who struggle to transcend their problems and make a life together, and you want to restrain yourself from ragging on anyone who takes a serious approach to the subject. But does the thing have to be such a droning bore?

The faces the actors have set for themselves are as fixed as masks. As the tender-souled, befuddled shrink, Bridges fights to find that plodding, commonplace, overearnest side of his personality, and, in flashes, he manages to convey an authentic emotion. (You can't help but wonder though how this part got away from Alan Alda.) Krige, on the other hand, seems stifled by the generalizations in her character. That migraine seems to have spread throughout her whole body. Fawcett plays a tortured beauty, unsatisfied by monogamy and comfy family life, and certainly, somewhere underneath her blond tangles, there must be facial expressions that convey some of this, but if there are, none of them made it onto the emulsion.

Banal as it is, the film may find its supporters. In "See You in the Morning" all the issues are flagged, and Pakula seems more interested in scoring easy sociological points than in penetrating to something deeper, something more personal. He has succeeded in capturing the lifestyle terrain -- furniture, the clothes, the cultural stuff. And for Pakula, this seems to be an end in itself. But in fact, the problems of this achingly self-conscious class of Manhattanites have been given more than their share of screen time. Shot in rich, soft-colored hues by Donald McAlpine, the picture is handsome in a slightly overarticulated way, and with its tasteful Gershwin numbers, what it most brings to mind is the worst of Woody Allen, and few things in life are worse than that -- it's Alan doing Woody. And this Woody isn't worth doing.

"See You in the Morning" is rated PG-13 and contains such adult material as an incontinent doggy.

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