RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7 -- At the Outer Circle.
The seven friends from the '60s who gather for a now-we're-turning-30 reunion in "Return of the Secaucus 7" are about as nice a bunch of characters as you could have trouble telling apart on any screen. There isn't a mean impulse among them, nor a dramatic one, either.
John Sayles, who wrote, directed and acts in this low-budget film, for which he won a screen-writing award, has been utterly scrupulous about representing his subjects. There is no visible trace of makeup on them or the made-up in them. Occasionally someone gets in a clever quip among all the small talk, but surely not statistically more frequent than would be consistent with any such gathering. The aimless sequence of sociable events, including eating and volleyball, is faithfully reproduced.
This unpretentious naturalism has a pleasant style to it. But when applied to the conventions to which these characters all subscribe, which do not admit the expression of any strong or conflicting emotions, it makes for rather slow going.
The original seven, who gather with a few extra old friends or current lovers, take their group name from a trivial arrest on the New Jersey Turnpike on their way to an anti-war rally. They are not supposed to have been political diehards of any kind, but merely well-meaning kids of their era. bNow one is a senator's speechwriter, two are high-school teachers, one a medical student, one is going to Los Angeles to become a singer (apparently in the sense that Chekhov's "Three Sisters" are on their way to Moscow), one as aspiring actress who has gotten about as far, and one a drug counselor.
There have been various couplings and uncouplings within the group and with others. In fact, one couple has just broken up, and we see a girl sleep with another member of the group, her ex-lover's best friend and himself the ex-lover of one of the other girls and the hoped-for lover of still another.
Isn't that drama enough for seven people? Not according to the mores of these people. They all believe that any expression of sexual desire, no matter how weak, fleeting or inconvenient, is good, but that jealousy, possessiveness or sustainedd interest on the part of a rejected partner is sinful. They also believe in telling everything they know, think or feel to everyone. Therefore, the turn of events is announced to everyone immediately after it happens -- so much for suspense. The rejected woman happily finds a different lover the very next day, and the rejected man sublimates by chopping wood -- so much for drama.
Another law of this small society is that there shall be no hierarchy based on occupation. There is no suggestion of any class difficulty when the woman who is about to become a doctor takes up with a gas-station attendant. The group has not grown apart because of divergent jobs or joblessness; on the contrary, it seems that every path has led them to the identical behavior, values, living style, clothing, sexual arrangements and level of happiness. (The curious exceptions are the only family man, who is pitied as being trapped, and a marginally professional actress, who is scorned.)
It's an accomplishment of the film that this ideal of community does not seem hypocritical -- even looks don't count, and the homeliest girl is the most popular -- but authentically lacking in structure. However commendable such flatness may be, though, it does not provide an interesting view.