HPPUB MOVIE REVIEW of The Business of Strangers

 

Title:  The Business of Strangers

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 85  Minutes

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  ITC; I5 Films

Director; Writer: Patrcik Stettner

Producer:  Robert Nathan

Cast:   Stockard Channing, Julie Stiles, Frederick Weller

Technical:  1.8:1  Digital

Relevance to HPPUB site:  independent film; workplace issues

Review: Earlier this year I saw I5’s The Deep End, and again I am struck by this piercing, detailed, intense, intimate, “you are there” style of  independent filmmaking about :our modern life.”  There is a vision, directness and confrontational nature to the screenplay, the look of the film, and engagement of the audience that you don’t find in the polished style of entertainment from larger Hollywood efforts. Yet this is professional to the core—and in a sense it is a movie about professionalism.

 

The setup is this: Julie Styron (Stockard Channing) has just failed to win a big account at an airport hotel because her technical assistant Paula Murphy (Julie Stiles) arrived late because of a delayed flight. Styron fires her, and then learns she must return quickly because she is about to get canned herself. It’s very unnerving to be “on the road” and worried about losing your job back home. Then her flight from Newark is delayed, and she is stuck in the posh hotel. She tries to make amends with Paula after meeting a corporate spy, played creepily by Frederick Weller. Weller had played an impressive role as a “masculine” gay man protective of others in the 1996 Strand film Stonewall, Here he plays the role as a clean cut all-American whose character and past behavior may include some skeletons. The three characters are exposed in layers, literally. Paula displays body art that would be too much for a boy band, let alone the corporate world. At times, her interaction with Julie suggests that it will explode into frank lesbianism; instead they play a dangerous prank on Weller, whom Paula may or may not have correctly identified from her own past.  Hence, the title about “strangers”: are they really strangers, or did they come together from something in their “past lives” with appropriate karma.  This is a matter of mistaken or confirmed identity at a vetting glance. It’s erotic in a paced way, as the manhood of a drugged Weller is displayed and tested. The debouement, though, is anti-climatic.  They’re hardly concerned about airport security, and Weller seems cool about his own defacement.

 

Paul plays up the family values problem. At one point, she taunts Julie: “you have no family.”  No children.  We’re ready for the baby boon. Yup, her career is her life, or is it?

Stockard Channing truly dominates this film, making herself and, by a kind of derailment, the other two main characters all into rather creepy enigmas.

 

Stockard Channing, also well known for her appearance in The West Wing, does not appear in the documentary Searching for Debra Winger (Lions Gate Films, 2002, 99 min, dir. Rosanna Arquette), interviewing a number of mature actresses about the resistance they meet in their careers in getting leading roles. Now The Business of Strangers is a good leading role. I can imagine other such roles, such as Greta Cammermeyer’s character (a lesbian colonel in the National Guard) in Serving in Silence. The film does interview Debra Winger, Diane Lane, Teri Garr, Holly Hunter, Whoopi Goldberg, Meg Ryan, Sharon Stone, Jane Fonda. There are other revealing conversations, particularly about balancing career and motherhood or “having it all,” and a mention of the fact that back in the 50s movie stars hired servants to raise their children. There is also an interesting discussion of how great movies hang around one scene of “emotional transition,” that ought to remain the province of mature actors and actresses. This film is valuable for screenwriters who might look for established professionals to lock on to their work.

Related reviews: The Deep End, Stonewall

 

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Email me at Jboushka@aol.com