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Truly Madly Deeply (Anthony Minghella) 1991


    The debut feature of director Anthony Minghella, Truly Madly Deeply is an odd duck of a movie that never really gets off the ground. By sandwiching together a fantastic ghost story with a mundane love story, it ends up diffusing both, resulting in a seemingly random mix of scenes. It doesn’t help much that the film takes as long to get going as it does. For nearly half an hour, we have to watch as a multitude of clichéd and overly quirky characters are introduced before we really touch upon the central relationship in the film (and every one of their tired storylines needs to be resolved patly before the film’s end). Poor Nina (Juliet Stevenson) has lost Jamie (Alan Rickman) her lover, and can’t get over it. Everyone she associates with sympathizes deeply with her, and whenever she leaves the room they talk about how wonderful a person she is and how tragic the loss is. The problem is that for all of the obvious attempts of the screenplay to make us understand the profound loss that Nina feels, it never succeeds. When his strangely corporeal ghost shows up, apparently because Nina’s longing was too great to allow him to move on, she’s moved greatly, but for the audience the effect is almost nonexistent. Since we never got to know Jamie, we couldn’t possibly have missed him.


    The film moves awkwardly on from here, as Nina attempts to keep people from seeing Jamie, who moves into her flat and brings some annoying ghostly friends. For a while, they seems to recapture the idealized glee that lives at the start of a good relationship where two people want to shut out the rest of the world, but before long reality begins to set in (no, they don't stop to ask if it's necrophilia), and Nina begins to remember that life with Jamie was not perfect, regardless of how his death made her reconceptualize it. This seems a relatively sound message for the film, but it bungles it totally when it attempts to move on from it. Nina begins to strike up a new relationship with an even more idealized man who utterly idealizes her. Instead of learning from her relationship with Jamie, she gets caught up with this seemingly perfect stranger, simply because he has a pulse. When he begins declaring his love before he even learns Nina’s last name or address, the film expects us to get weepy and cheer, but ignore everything that it’s taught us to that point. It’s befuddling. Minghella’s later films were filled with a sort of refined visual poetry that made them captivating even at their most maudlin moments, but the only poetry in Truly Madly Deeply is the sappy kind that the two leads recite for each other. The film seems at first to want to show the audience a more realistic angle on the romantic film since it has homely people cast in its roles, but as soon as the sparks start to fly, the director trots out the same soft focus and mood lighting as any other movie, and the effect seems discordant with the rest of the film’s tone. When Minghella wants to show us that Nina is ready to start a new life, he has a subsidiary character give birth so that Nina can breathlessly declare, “It’s a new life!” It’s most likely this sort of gross simplification that probably makes many people respond to Truly Madly Deeply, but it’s precisely that sort of dunderheaded simplicity that turned me off.


* * 


Jeremy Heilman