An eclectic, whimsical and charming character study from Sarajevo-born director Emir Kusturica who, unsurprisingly, has gained quite a reputation as a maker of eclectic, whimsical and charming movies (see his more recent Life is a Miracle (2004) by way of example).
We’re going back to 1993 – everyone’s favourite actor/auteur Johnny Depp, who plays rebellious-but-happy dreamer Axel Blackmar, making his living in New York, tagging fish as a naturalist’s gofer, is looking somewhat younger. His old pal Paul (Vincent Gallo, charming as a slick would-be actor, with a fantastic slant on North-by-Northwest) arrives to take him (under duress) to Arizona for the wedding of his uncle, Leo Sweetie (Jerry Lewis). Not that Axel doesn’t love Leo dearly, you understand, but he sees straight away that it’s a ruse to get him into the family car-selling business.
Compensations await in the form of mother and daughter Elaine and Grace Stalker (Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor), two very vivacious but emotionally needy souls. Romantic involvement of the most unconventional kind is just around the corner, as is some very risky flying…
Sneaks up on you, does Arizona Dream. Settling back for what I figured would be two-plus hours of Purgatory (it was my beloved’s choice of film, you see), I was pleasantly irritated (if that’s not a contradiction) to find that I was falling in love with Kusturica’s unique, moving (and very funny) vision of a dysfunctional family unit.
David Atkins’ script, co-written with the director, gives doyenne Dunaway more than enough to do in her role as the ageing beauty (still very beautiful) who’s somewhat losing grip on reality, while Lili Taylor proves more than her match when it comes to throwing emotional punches (check out her fake suicide early on – one of the most hilarious pieces of sustained slapstick you’re ever likely to catch). The film has ensemble written all over it – and it’s fantastic, once again, to see Lewis proving how well he can mix the straight/funny man dynamic (as he did so well in Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy (1983)).
And Depp? Well, here’s Johnny, showing early on why he deserved to rise to the heights he subsequently has. Check out this dream – you won’t regret it.