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'Stars' Shine on Rowlands

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 14, 1997

Nick Cassavetes takes his fatherís place behind the camera in "Unhook the Stars," a tender and perceptive psychological portrait with his mother, Gena Rowlands, radiant in the leading role. Like his late father, John, Cassavetes is a keen observer of character and intimate detail, but stylistically, like father is not like son. No cinema verite for Nick, whose first film subscribes to conventional Hollywood filmmaking.

On the other hand, Cassavetesí subject -- coping with age -- is anathema to the suits who run the movie-making industry -- unless, of course, the protagonists are grumpy, old men or senior citizens gone to space with friendly aliens.

Mildred (Rowlands), however, is not only extremely pleasant, but also a sensible woman -- or so she believes -- of a certain age. When her rebellious daughter (Moira Kelly) suddenly flys the nest, Mildred, a prim widow, suddenly finds herself at loose ends.

Ą To her relief and delight, the newly single mother next-door, Monica (Marisa Tomei), asks her to baby-sit for her little boy, J.J. (Jake Lloyd), who soon becomes Mildredís reason to live. J.J., who both loves his father and hates his parentsí abusive relationship, blossoms under Aunty Mildredís somewhat obsessive care.

Monica becomes both surrogate daughter and buddy to the older woman, and while Mildred hasnít realized it yet, sheís right back where she started. She had a chance at a "reincarnation," as Mildred explains to her son (David Sherrill), but she returned to the familiar work of nurturing.

Happily, the heroine has a second chance at starting over, and with a lot of help from an amorous French-Canadian trucker (Gerard Depardieu), she breaks the pattern and how! While Cassavetes and Rowlands have stated it with more nuance, the movieís message is both simple and familiar: It ainít over, till itís over. Period.

UNHOOK THE STARS (R) ó Contains crude language.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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