- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

One of the principal characters in Alan Rudolph’s whimsically inspired romantic farce “Choose Me,” now approaching its 25th anniversary, would appear to be clinically crazy: Keith Carradine’s amorous drifter Mickey, first encountered strolling away from confinement in a “mental home” and subsequently embellished with a resume that suggests a parody of the International Man of Mystery.

A strong argument for walking-around derangement also clings to Genevieve Bujold’s sublimely smoldering and addled character, an airwaves Woman of Mystery, sex-talk adviser Nancy Love, hostess of a popular Los Angeles show called “Love Line.”

One of two women seduced by Mickey within a matter of days, Nancy, who also calls herself Ann when operating incognito, exchanges brief calls with an unseen “Dr. Greene,” who could be an ex-shrink or consort and sounds very solicitous about her state of mind. He seems to suspect that she’s off her medications and drifting toward something of the chronically delusionary persuasion. “Nancy, it’s happening again,” he warns.

What happens away from the doctor’s field of observation is the rapid flowering of a screwball romantic triangle that begins when Mickey wanders into an old haunt, a bar called Eve’s Lounge, which sounds like mankind’s earliest hangout. Secluded in a warehouse district, the Lounge attracts a strictly decorative, atmospheric pedestrian traffic of hookers and pimps. When first glimpsed, the sidewalk ensemble seems to engage in an impromptu dance of recognition with the proprietor, Lesley Ann Warren as a former hooker named Eve, as she arrives for her shift at dusk.

In retrospect, it’s curious that “Choose Me” was never transformed into a theatrical musical, in part because this opening interlude seems to anticipate a full-blown dance prelude. And, of course, there’s already an intermittent song score on the soundtrack, dominated by the indispensable, mood-setting title number, crooned by Teddy Pendergrass.

Inside, Eve’s Lounge proves a congenial, bemusing oasis of lovelorn inducement and reflection, enhanced in peak hours by a jazz combo. The sight of Eve begins enchanting Mickey seconds after he walks in and orders a Smirnoff shooter. As he confides to another customer, Rae Dawn Chong’s Pearl, who has ulterior motives for hanging around, he knew the original Eve. Moreover, she was the great love of his life, until calamity intervened.

Not one to evade opportunity or peril, Mickey makes a play for Eve that could prove successful, to judge from the cleverly ambiguous fadeout, but it needs to detour through an overnight at Pearl’s and a post-breakfast encounter with Nancy Love, who has coincidentally become Eve’s new roommate, under her Ann alias. Fair enough in a way, since Eve frequently calls “Love Line” under assumed names to seek guidance from Nancy, the dubious voice of wisdom.

Surrendering to Mickey in the course of one of the funniest short-acquaintance love scenes in movie annals, Nancy undergoes a “transformative” carnal experience that also transformed Genevieve Bujold into a comic genius. Nancy’s sanest moments belong to the immediate afterglow of her swoon with Mickey. Once back at the station, she begins talking about sex with a sultry, convulsive candor that acquires a sudden Nietzschean dimension.

Frustration might be a safer option than Dr. Love on the loose.

When Nancy feels the need to confess that she poached on Eve’s gentleman caller, domestic arrangements get even more awkward. Despite a body of experience that would seem to dwarf Nancy’s, Eve is offended by the suggestion that some kind of Mickey-sharing deal might be feasible. Fortunately, Mickey seems to be genuinely fixated on his reincarnated Eve, so we’re left to speculate about Nancy’s prospects as a liberated L.A. adventuress and Eve’s as a belated, apprehensive newlywed.

The son of veteran Hollywood assistant director Oscar Rudolph, who became a prolific director of TV sitcoms and then the original director of the “Batman” series, Alan Rudolph worked as an assistant to Robert Altman between “The Long Goodbye” and “Nashville,” then emerged as a writer-director with independent aspirations. His initial attempts at contemplative, bittersweet romance, “Welcome to L.A.” in 1976 and “Remember My Name” two years later, suffered from conceptual sour notes that ruined the elegant imagery and other promising elements.

Mr. Rudolph seemed to add some comic finesse in “Roadie,” an amiable satire of the rock music world in 1980, but “Choose Me” proved his distinctive breakthrough four years later. Evidently, he needed three attempts at the preoccupations and intuitions that remained stymied or trite in “Welcome to L.A.” and “Remember My Name.” He even had a second likable movie in release in 1984, “Songwriter,” a romantic comedy about the country-music world that co-starred Lesley Ann Warren with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

“Choose Me” seems to demonstrate that casting can make a world of difference. The filmmaker also acquired a redeeming lighter touch and a flair for romantic absurdity that had been missing in the earlier films. In “Choose Me,” his grasp of the gulf between erotic instinct and liberated cant had become humorously uncanny; the conflicts could be depicted with optimum playfulness and credibility by the three principal cast members.

TITLE: “Choose Me”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, sexual candor and semi-facetious violence; fleeting nudity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Alan Rudolph. Cinematography by Jan Kiesser. Production design by Steven Legler. Costume design by Tracy Tynan. Film editing by Mia Goldman. Title song by Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller; performed by Teddy Pendergrass.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

DVD EDITION: MGM Home Entertainment

WEB SITE: www.mgm.com/dvd

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