A Dangerous Woman

The marketeers evidently knew they had a tough sell on their hands with this one, a story about (among other things) a sexual triangle between drunken handyman Mackey (Gabriel Byrne), society woman Frances (Barbara Hershey) -- whose house he works on -- and Martha, her daffy-to-mentally handicapped sister (Debra Winger). Why else would they call this failed attempt at bittersweet romance A Dangerous Woman?

Certainly no danger is apparent when we first meet Martha, who is the movie's lead character. Winger is completely buried behind a pair of thick glasses, and under of long, thick, uncombed hair. Winger looked for all the world like the late Gilda Radner, and her ditzy approach to Martha only emphasized the similarity.

At the movie's opening, Martha is working in a dry-cleaners, where her sister has gotten her a job. Martha is so socially awkward that she can be hired to do even a menial job only if her sister agrees to pay her salary. Part of her awkwardness comes from her honesty. Martha cannot tell a lie, even if it means exposing her own boss petty wrongdoing to a favored customer.

Once her clumsy but honest tongue has gotten her fired, Martha goes back home to her disapproving sister. There she meets the new handyman, the first man who has ever paid any attention to her. Mack is a charming drifter, who becomes only a little less pleasant when he's drunk. That is, every night. He and Martha drift into a sort of relationship. He feels remorse the next day, given Martha's fragile mental and emotional state. Soon heÕs drifted over to the arm's of brittle sis. Again he feels remorse, this time because he's slept with a rather unpleasant woman.

So he decides to drift on, and the movie attempts to earn its title by having one of the women committ a brutal act.

But this movie finally insists on being upbeat; such inability to face up to its own story may explain why Byrne and Winger ae so bad. Winger gets a little better later in the movie, but she's essentially playing a female version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men here, and that calls more for schtick than acting. Hershey is fine as the brittle sister, but she doesn't have much to do.

--David Theis


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