There’s a scene in Angie in which the Brooklyn-born title character (Geena Davis) abandons her week-old son, who was born with a deformed arm, and boards a Greyhound in search of the mother who abandoned her when she was little. Alighting in Nashville, Davis enters the restroom of the bus-station coffee shop, pulls out a big pair of shears she conveniently happens to be carrying in her shoulder bag, and begins hacking away at her long brunet hair. When she emerges, she’s sporting the kind of chic, chin-length bob I have to pay big bucks at a high-style salon to achieve. Thing is, believable haircuts are one of the guidelines by which a Woman’s Movie must be judged: If we who know what it takes to (as the jingle goes) Look Like You’ve Just Stepped Out of a Salon can’t believe the coif, how can we believe the character?
No hair-hacking takes place in Avra Wing’s Angie, I Says, the rough-edged, pocket-size 1991 novel on which this monument to the work of dialect coaches is based — no bus rides out of Brooklyn, either, for that matter. And still Wing managed to touch on such essentials of womanly plot material as pregnancy, childbirth, the friendship of women, the vagaries of men, the bonds of family, and the camaraderie of office life. By the time Used People screenwriter Todd Graff and Rambling Rose director Martha Coolidge get through Hollywoodizing the material, however, what you’ve got is a phony.
Speaking of unbelievability, what is Geena Davis — that creamy six-foot vanilla scoop of a star — doing playing someone called Angie Scacciapensieri? (Madonna was originally, logically, cast in the role; too bad she and the production parted ways.) Davis walks and dresses like the gorgeous, non-Italian model she is, she goes into labor like a model who has been taught what labor-breathing looks like, and she attempts to breast-feed her son up around her clavicle. For that matter, what is Stephen Rea doing far from The Crying Game playing Noel, a charming lawyer who appeals to Angie’s untutored but instinctive good taste? (In a shameless Moonstruck variation — also not in the book — highbrow Noel takes lowbrow Angie to the ballet, where her eyes shine with glittering tears of aesthetic awakening.)
With Noel, Davis plays Angie as a woman who can banter with Brooklyn-accented sophistication. With Vinnie (James Gandolfini), her longtime boyfriend and the father of her child, she resorts to the language of waddaya? waddaya? With her best friend, Tina (Aida Turturro, John and Nicholas’ cousin, in the only believable ethnic performance in the lot), she is styled as a woman who can giggle over a vibrator. (I told you this was a Woman’s Movie.) With the birth of her damaged baby she becomes a motherly philosopher: ”I’m finally part of somethin’ bigger than me.”
If Graff and Coolidge had kept it small — say, about the size of Nancy Savoca’s True Love — Angie would have fit perfectly. In trying to be somethin’ bigger, the film is out of proportion. Like a bad haircut. C