At the beginning of Bud Yorkin's amateurish, emotionally fraudulent "Twice in a Lifetime," Harry (Gene Hackman), a steelworker, goes to his Neighborhood Bar to hoist a few with the boys in celebration of his 50th birthday. They drink, hug, pound each other on the back and guffaw -- "haw haw haw" -- as Blue Collar Workers always seem to do in these movies, but something, for Harry, is missing. And he knows what that something is when the new barmaid, Audrey (Ann-Margret), when asked to dance, says she'd prefer a kiss instead.
"Go! Go! Go! Go!" chant the Blue Collar Workers.
And go he does, right out of his marriage to Kate (Ellen Burstyn), which really cheeses off daughter Sunny (Amy Madigan), who doth protest too much (she's having doubts about her own marriage). But resilient old Kate, after much weeping, gets a blond rinse in her hair, goes to a male strip joint and wins at bingo, thus putting her life back together. Harry gets an apartment and continues to see Audrey. And daughter Helen (Ally Sheedy), ironically enough, decides to get married, passing the torch to a new generation of Americans.
Yorkin has said that he was attracted to Colin Welland's screenplay because there were no villains in it, and he's certainly right: Moving on is just something Harry has to do. It's tempting to call this Hollywood amoralism, but it's closer to the TV movie Weltanschauung -- the only thing missing is for Harry, Kate and the whole family to go into therapy. Without any moral perspective, the movie has no weight. It's as gauzy and general as Pat Metheny's soft-jazz score.
The movie's supposed to be loose and "realistic," but always seems phony; there's no sense, for example, of time passing (you have to be told that 10 months have gone by, and it's a shock). Yorkin has shot "Twice in a Lifetime" with a nervous, panning and dollying camera that always seems to be moving, to no purpose; the framing is haphazard, the compositions static and uninteresting. The camera's almost inevitably in the wrong place, and the movie seems to have been edited by someone with two catcher's mitts.
Worse, Yorkin gives his actors mile-long leashes; the movie peters off into aimless improvisations and acting that is big . . . bigger . . . biggest! The usually minimalist Hackman gives by far his twinkliest and crinkliest performance, all goo-goo eyes and skim-milk smiles. Ann-Margret, who's called upon to do little but look (as my father would say) "volumptuous," gets strident and loud in her big scene; Burstyn, who's never needed encouragement in the overacting department, mugs shamelessly and talks, quite inexplicably, in the accents of a frontierswoman. Sheedy continues to act mostly with her chin. And the talented Madigan, washed out in unflattering white light, braying and screwing up her face and clenching her fists and stomping her feet, appears to be doing an impersonation of Walter Brennan.
Twice in a Lifetime, at area theaters, is rated R and contains profanity and sexual themes.