' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Long Kiss Goodnight

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Some Drivel On...The Long Kiss Goodnight

In explaining his penchant for setting movies at Christmas, writer and director Shane Black told EW in 2016 that the year-end holiday “represents a little stutter in the march of days, a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives.” Such retrospection is, of course, embedded in A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens touchstone which has, both directly and indirectly, inspired hundreds of stories of seasonal resurrection ever since. That’s especially true at the Hallmark Channel where its unceasing concoction of Christmas movies frequently find its overworked, oft-cynical female protagonists in small towns where the yuletide mirth seeps into their bones, or mystically waking up in the middle of a life that isn’t theirs, like Lyndsy Fonseca in this year’s “Next Stop, Christmas”, or suffering from a convenient bout of amnesia that shows them how wonderful life could really be, a la Mira Sorvino in “A Christmas to Remember” (2016). That’s the movie I kept thinking of in re-watching Renny Harlin’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996) for the first time in 25 years. Written by Black and starring Geena Davis as Samantha Crain, a schoolteacher and mother suffering amnesia, the movie was essentially written off at the time but has since become a cult classic. And while it’s a Shane Black movie through and through, violent and profane and very funny ( and one that probably deserved a Best Costume Design Oscar over “The English Patient” simply for the way Michael Kaplan dressed Samuel L. Jackson’s low-rent private eye), he was also unwittingly writing an R-rated prototype for the coming Hallmark Holiday wave.

“The Long Kiss Goodnight” opens with Samantha starring in her small Pennsylvania town’s Christmas parade as Mrs. Claus, nothing less than Earth’s preeminent mythical housewife. After all, Mrs. Claus stays back at the North Pole while the fat man flies all over the world delivering presents and getting the glory. Like Mrs. Claus just eternally exists in this motherly role, so does Samantha, born into it, in a manner of speaking, as she explains in voiceover, having woken up on a beach eight years prior, pregnant with her daughter Caitlin (Yvonne Zima) and with no idea of who she is or how she got there. And though she is welcomed into the family of her boyfriend (Tom Amandes), there is the lingering question of her past, explored by various private investigators, including Jackson’s Mitch Henessey, who helps uncover the truth that she is really Charly Baltimore, a government assassin, inverting the familiar Hallmark arc where rather than escaping her hard-charging, career-oriented past for something more heartwarming and traditionalist, she leaves her heartwarming and traditionalist present for her hard-charging, career-oriented past, emblems of domesticity like a chopping knife and lemon meringue pie and ice skating hearkening that shift. The preeminent bad guy, meanwhile, Timothy (Craig Bierko), despite his involvement in an oddly prescient false flag operation, in Bierko’s air and the character’s costuming suggests something less like a conspiratorial government megalomaniac than a smug ex-boyfriend. 

The break between Samantha and Charly happens at almost exactly the mid-movie mark, with Samantha cutting her hair and changing her clothes as Davis downshifts her voice into throaty menace, as if Meryl Streep of “One True Thing” went into a phonebooth and emerged as Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde.” That she hardly seems like the same person is the whole point, identified, in fact, by Mitch, becoming the unlikely angel on her shoulder, stressing she not brush aside her family as the resurrected Charly once again gets a kinky kick out of the executioner’s lifestyle. It’s an effectively jarring juxtaposition, Davis initially eschewing multi-dimension to simply play totally incongruous, split personalities. It is only after Timothy kidnaps Caitlin and the action spirals out of control that Davis lets Samantha bleed over into Charly, a kind of blackly comic version of Ripley and Newt in “Aliens.” And rather than demonstrating a mom’s inordinate strength by lifting a car off her trapped daughter, as the saying goes, Charly utilizes a long string of holiday lights to do the same, as if still finding means to give her child a festive Christmas. The concluding scene, meanwhile, suggests a final fusing of the personas and, as such, a refusal to settle for one or the other, an embodiment that, yes, just like so many Hallmark event planners and marketing executives, Samantha Crain née Charly Baltimore can have it all. 

No comments: