Tuesday, April 19, 2011


It's probably safe to say that, when Cher and Ryan O'Neal die, their appearances in the 1996 movie "Faithful" probably won't be mentioned in the lead paragraphs of their obituaries.

Neither, I'm sure, would object to that.

If Cher, for instance, is going to be remembered for her work in films, it almost certainly goes without saying that she would prefer that people remember her Oscar–winning performance in "Moonstruck" — or her parts in "Mask" or "Mermaids" or "The Witches of Eastwick" — and not her role as Maggie in "Faithful."

For that matter, O'Neal would surely prefer to be remembered for "Love Story" or "Paper Moon" — or even "What's Up, Doc?" — and not for playing Jack, Maggie's philandering husband who hires a hit man to kill her.

It was billed as a comedy, but, frankly, I found little amusing about it. Neither did audiences or critics, apparently.

The premise was that Maggie, on the occasion of her 20th anniversary, was depressed and seriously contemplating suicide. Meanwhile, Jack had hired this hit man to kill her, and the hit man kept his appointment.

But a funny thing (not "funny ... ha ha" but more like "funny ... strange") happened. The two started to bond while they waited for the all–clear signal from Jack.

(That's actually some sort of syndrome, I believe — in which a person who has been abducted forms an attachment to the abductor. If I remember correctly, it is what happened to newspaper heiress Patty Hearst when she was being held by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s.)

There was something else that was funny (again, not "funny ... ha ha" but more like "funny ... strange") about what unfolded.

Nobody cared.

Well, I didn't. I can't really speak for the others who saw it, but I can reach some conclusions — and one is that nobody cared. Literally. The film's opening weekend produced nearly half of its total gross revenue.

I didn't see it at the theater. I saw it years later on TV.

And I decided, as I watched it, that too many things just didn't add up. For instance, Cher and O'Neal were supposed to be playing a childless couple marking their 20th wedding anniversary. The childless thing was clearly a sore point between them, and most people would figure that, logically, they must be in their early to mid–40s in order for the failure to conceive to still be such an issue.

But they were about 10 years older than they needed to be. O'Neal turned 55 the weekend the film was released, and Cher was about to turn 50. Cher was well past her childbearing years, and O'Neal should have been over the disappointment of having no children.

If closeups hadn't betrayed those facts from time to time, the audience must have been influenced by its knowledge of just how long both had been in the public eye.

I know I was.

In 1996, Cher had been familiar to audiences for more than 30 years, going back to her 1965 hit with Sonny, "I Got You Babe." O'Neal's TV credits went back farther than that, but movie audiences had been aware of him for more than a quarter of a century — since 1970's "Love Story."

If the faces hadn't been so familiar, the story might have been more effective. But, as it was, I simply couldn't buy it.

For that matter, I couldn't work up much empathy for any of the characters, either. And, as I say, it appears I wasn't alone. Judging from the box office receipts, not many people paid to see it.

They didn't miss much.