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The Independent Culture

Jolted out of a suicidal stupor, Warren Beatty's hopelessly compromised California senator embarks on a "truth-telling" spree, which consists primarily of racial put-downs and old-left tirades, badly rapped. The point of the film is that the senator's diatribes are cathartic and liberating - because it's apparently what people want to hear. Or is it what people have always wanted to say but have been afraid to? More to the point, which people? Beatty said in an interview last year, "If I had made [Bulworth] back in 1968 ... it would have been too politically correct for words" - meaning presumably that today's high-irony climate is more conducive to "malt liquor and chicken wing" cracks. The film has its funny moments, and its writer-director-actor's bravura is never less than compelling. But Beatty's seemingly good intentions notwithstanding, tweaking stereotypes can be irresponsible - tantamount to perpetrating them - if both context and execution are confused, as they often are here.


The source novel, by Stephen McCauley, is a light-footed, casually insightful take on youthful romantic anxiety, tracking the relationship between twentysomethings George and Nina, a gay man and a straight woman who, more in denial than in love, fall into a deceptively cosy living arrangement. The adaptation's failings have less to do with lead actors Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston or director Nicholas Hytner than screenwriter Wendy Wasserstein, who has abridged, altered, tweaked, and generally taken the lustre off McCauley's story. Wasserstein adds a handful of new characters, and in virtually every instance, there's neither a comedic nor a dramatic pay-off. The worst offenders are Nina's social-climbing stepsister (Alison Janney) and her hotshot-agent husband (Alan Alda), both pointless and unfunny caricatures. The leads just about carry the film - even if Aniston's Nina isn't much more than Rachel without Rachel-hair. The film's not as witty as it should have been and more coy than it needed to be (and, unlike the book, it refuses to leave a single loose end hanging, flashing forward to an annoyingly pat coda). But it affords glimpses, however fleeting, of two decent people trapped in a believably confusing mess.