Hollywood has settled into the scuffed splendor of an old Charleston, S.C., home, a seaside double-decker wrapped with porches upstairs and down. Between takes, the stars of Rich in Love get cozy: Albert Finney reads the paper. Suzy Amis (Rocket Gibraltar), strapped into a foam pregnancy tummy and curled up on a four-poster bed, knits a beanie for her son, Jasper, now 2.5. Kyle MacLachlan, staying in character as Amis’ husband, tucks a blanket around her, then stretches out to read Iron John. The set is drowsy with confident contentment — until director Bruce Beresford calls everyone onto the upstairs porch to conjure there the summer of one family’s discontent.
It will take most of the day to shoot this breakfast-on-the-porch scene focusing on whether Amis’ character should have a late-term abortion. That’s just one of many upsets that befall this Southern family after the sudden departure of the matriarch (Jill Clayburgh) and the subsequent unraveling of the father (Finney). Though the dialogue is sometimes startling, the drama mainly plays itself out in nuance: in what MacLachlan conveys in a sidelong glance and what Finney communicates with his wild, winged eyebrows. Rich in Love, which opened in limited release March 5, is ”really about stuff that’s happening on the face,” MacLachlan says. And that sets it squarely in the tradition of the quadruple-Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy, the last movie made by this same team: Beresford, writer Alfred Uhry, and producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck.
The Zanucks found Josephine Humphreys’ 1987 novel, Rich in Love, even before Daisy was in theaters. And though they didn’t set out to reassemble the same crew, Richard Zanuck says he realized the project called for ”masters of underplaying, understating things.” Beresford even insists the Daisy-team reprise was against his better judgment. ”I nearly refused,” he says. ”I thought it was the cowardly thing to do.” But he was ultimately won over by Uhry’s script.
Fifteen months later, what was once appealing for its simplicity is now painstaking work. There are no easy dramatics, ”no car crashes, no explosions,” explains Finney. Great importance is placed on the actors’ ability to slide under the skin of an assortment of characters: Finney has skewed his British accent into a Southern drawl. MacLachlan has settled into a Midwestern persona that is much more unbuttoned than his Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks. Piper Laurie, as the tart hairdresser who courts the abandoned father, has plastered on spider-leg eyelashes and teased her hair into a red haze. And Kathryn Erbe (What About Bob?), walking with a flat-footed teen gait, has shaved nearly a decade off her 27 years to play the younger daughter who tries to knit the clan back together.
”This is a film where writers set the inspiration,” says Beresford, and in fact it’s the script that knits everyone together. The writers, Uhry and Humphreys, are now watching as Amis says a line about ”hauling off” and having an abortion. Uhry whispers in Humphreys’ ear: ”Did you write that ‘haul off’?” She shakes her head. ”Suzy must have come up with it. It’s good,” says Uhry, satisfied that another nuance has found its way into Rich in Love.