Love Field

Interracial romance is always difficult to depict in film. There is a danger of being preachy and sanctimonious, talking down to the audience, instead of enlightening it.  Love Field is a film that tries mightly to teach viewers about how racism is bad and that love knows no color. The triteness with which this film deals with race relations makes Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner look like Do the Right Thing. It’s unfortunate that Love Field isn’t a good film, because not only is its subject matter interesting and important, it does feature a lovely performance by its star, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer, in an Oscar-nominated role,  stars as Lurene Hallett, a Dallas hairdresser obsessed with the Kennedys. She appeares in the film in Marilyn Monroe-Jackie Kennedy drag, with a huge bouffant and pillbox hats. Pfeiffer is all 1960’s beautician with frosted lipstick and tarantala false eyelashes. When President Kennedy is assassinated, she jumps on a Greyhound, despite her husband’s protests, so that she can pay her respects. Lurene is a gold-hearted ditz, naive to an extreme, she prattles endlessly to a little Black girl named Jonell (Stephanie McFadden) who is traveling with her father, Paul Cater (Dennis Haysbert 24).

The bus crashes, and so does the film. Screenwriter Don Roos, decides that Love Field won’t just be a Civil Rights drama, but a crime caper, and Lurene gets Paul into all kinds of trouble with her good-intentioned, but ultimately stupid assumptions and errors. The two have to steal a car and are on the lam from the police and drive through the South making their way to Washington.

Director Jonathan Kaplan does a fitfully successful job, despite the hatchett job of Roos’ script. The initial scene where the characters learn of Kennedy’s death is very effective. The slow realization of the trouble settle like dust on the charactes’ faces.

Unfortunately, Roos fails as a scribe. His grasp of racism is shaky — in his favor he is unflinching in portraying racism in the South. Unfortunately, he also shows the Civil Rights era through the view of a White woman. Black people, despite being the most important players during the Civil Rights Movement, are shown as reactors to Lurene or plot devices to move the story along. There are no true Black characters — all, including Jonell and Paul are merely analogies of oppression.

The shame is that Pfeiffer is wasted in a bum role with a spotless performance. She finds an internal dignity in Lurene that does not exist in Rooss’ script. Her underutilized comic timing is also on hand for a bit. Haysbert is straightjacketed in the “Nobel Black man” role and despite his best efforts, he cannot seem to flourish in the offensively limited and underwritten role. McFadden steals scenes in a decidedly mature performance as the little girl. Love Field is the kind of movie that is supposed to teach us something: it doesn’t teach us anything new or profound about race or hatred, but it does teach us that Michelle Pfeiffer can still manage magic with mediocrity.

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