Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney
The origins of the premise behind The Truman Show are currently being disputed among Hollywood's legal sharks. But the film's basic idea - about a man (played by Jim Carrey) who discovers that his whole existence has been televised since birth and broadcast to the world - owes a hefty debt to Muriel Spark's first novel, The Comforters, about a woman who finds that she is trapped in a novel about herself. Like Spark's book, Peter Weir's film uses the conceit to explore existential dread and ideas of authenticity, though its specific setting, in the technologically controlled world of television, neatly taps into a pair of prevalent late-20th-century concerns: a fear that we are being watched even in our most intimate moments, thus eradicating all concept of privacy; and an insatiable hunger for fame.
The film is certainly very funny, due more to the cleverness of Andrew Niccol's script rather than its star's presence - Carrey is actually quite heart-rending as an actor when he smothers his hysteria. But be warned that it is a cold, clinical experience - a movie which explores what an audience wants while, bravely, refusing to cater for a predetermined appetite.
EVER AFTER (PG)
Director: Andy Tennant
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott
Real family problems abound in another new release, in which a daddy's girl (Drew Barrymore) is tormented by her beastly stepmother (Anjelica Huston) after her father's death, but finds hope in the arms of a handsome prince. This is Ever After (above right) - or, more accurately, Cinderella 90210.
Technically, the movie is a period piece, but the colloquial language and revisionist behaviour cause you to nervously anticipate the introduction of some 16th-century version of rollerblading or shopping malls. The film's irreverence can be engaging - the story accommodates Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, only to quickly relegate him to the role of blundering matchmaker. And the usual pleasures are all present and correct: ruddy-faced peasants, prickly pantomime turns from Huston and Richard O'Brien, coy romance between Barrymore and the Scottish actor Dougray Scott, whose suitably dippy expressions banish all memories of him as a brutal cop in Twin Town. Ultimately, it's quite hard to see the point of the movie, although 10-year-old girls currently paralysed by a first crush will think it was made just for them.
A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES (15)
Director: James Ivory
Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey, Jane Birkin
The family at the centre of A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, the latest fruit of the collaboration between James Ivory (director/co-writer), Ismail Merchant (producer) and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (co-writer), aren't without their troubles or idiosyncrasies. But the issues which propel the script are dislocation and adjustment: everyone in the film is looking to belong; they are each a touch out of synch.
The most obviously displaced character is Billy, a French boy adopted by the writer Bill Willis (played by Kris Kristofferson, but based on James Jones) and his wife Marcella (Barbara Hershey) while they are living in Paris in the 1960s. Billy is taken under the wing of his new sister, Channe, but is constantly prone to feelings of alienation as he enters his teenage years.
What gives the film its warmth is the leisurely and melancholy narrative rhythm. This is complemented in turn by the cinematographer Jean-Marc Fabre's watchful compositions which strongly recall De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, and by a clutch of sensitive, nuanced performances.
TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES (nc)
Director: Harry Sinclair
Starring: Danielle Cormack, Ian Hughes
You don't call a film Topless Women Talk About Their Lives (below) unless you suspect there is nothing very special about it and that it may well sink without a trace. And yes, this is yet another independent comedy- drama about modern urbanites - in this case, a pregnant woman musing on the identity of her baby's father, and a misogynistic writer among others - shot on a meagre budget, and all set to a scratchy indie-pop soundtrack. Does it have anything original to say about the tangle which men and women get themselves into when they try to understand each other? Take a wild guess. H