Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Uneasy Alliance

Tess (Shirley MacLaine): [in the grocery store] It's got no price at all.

Bob: Yes, ma'am. [over the radio] Uh, Doug, this is Bobby in canned goods, are you anywhere near the manager? I need a price check on Le Sueur baby peas, repeat, Le Sueur baby peas.

Doug (Nicolas Cage): Le Sueur baby peas.

Store Manager: They're on special today, two for .59.

Doug: They're on special today, two for .59.

Bob: Uh, copy that, it's two for .59.

Tess: But I only want one.

Bob: Uh, roger that, Doug, but she only wants one.

Doug: How much for just one?

Store Manager: The same. It's a two–for–one thing.

Doug: Uh, Bobby, it's a two–for–one thing so I suggest you go ahead and get both.

Bob: Uh, copy that, Doug, but I believe we've lost in interest in peas, repeat, lost interest in peas. Canned goods out.

Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine) was a demanding and stubborn woman, a former first lady who was "beloved" ... "as all first ladies of course are," wrote Roger Ebert, "with the possible exception of Nancy Reagan."

And it was the job of Secret Service agent Doug Chesnic (Nicolas Cage) to provide her with the protection to which she was entitled.

That job wasn't as easy as it might sound. Doug was intent on doing his job the way it was supposed to be done. Tess was intent on not allowing him to do his job the way it should be done.

I think Ebert made an astute observation when he said that Tess was "not elderly, or weak, or unintelligent, but she is lonely: During the film we see no friends, and her only relationships seem to be with her Service Service guards, her cooks, her secretary, her chauffeur and other employees."

Perhaps that explains a lot about her interaction with her protection detail. It was adversarial at times, but I always got the sense that Tess' relationship with her agents was special to her. In her own way, I think Tess was trying to prepare them for a world that she thought was more demanding than she was.

I found it intriguing that Ebert wrote of MacLaine, "I have never seen her in a role that I sense is closer to herself." He explained that he meant it in a complimentary sense, but he also spoke of Tess as a lonely, somewhat isolated and detached person, a micromanager.

I don't know if that really is an accurate description of MacLaine or not, but it is a good description of Tess.

Ebert made another interesting observation when he wrote that the relationship between Tess and Doug, the agent in charge, was not unlike the relationship in "Driving Miss Daisy."

"It isn't love, God forbid," he wrote, "but a certain respect for a tough opponent, and even some grudging affection."

Ebert admitted, though, that the movie took "an unanticipated turn," which he refused to reveal to the readers.

He wrote only that it was "handled well enough that it doesn't break the earlier mood of the movie but only underlines it." That's a good description.

I won't reveal that "unanticipated turn," either, except to say that it led to a satisfying final scene in which Doug and Tess indicated they had reached a mutual understanding, implying that things would be much smoother between them in the future.

It would have to be smoother than the relationship Tess had with her son (played by Edward Albert), who approached her for her endorsement of his commercial venture and was turned down. But the audience was aware that, privately, Tess had watched old footage of her husband's funeral, focusing on Doug in the crowd, and perhaps the viewers sensed that she had a certain fondness for him and his loyalty to her husband.

Personally, I enjoyed Cage's performance. I guess my favorite Cage performance will always be the one he gave in "Raising Arizona," but the one he gave in "Guarding Tess" ranks second with me.

Ebert concluded that MacLaine and Cage were quite good in their respective roles. "We feel for this man who has no life of his own — except to guard a woman who has no life of her own," he wrote.

Well said.