This is the story of a widow named Nikki (Annette Bening) who comes across a doppelganger for her late husband. The man is named Tom (Ed Harris), and he’s an art teacher. Strange, especially since her husband loved art, too (he was an architect). Also strange that as a profession, she’s in charge of staging houses to make them look lived in when they’re up for sale. We see her putting a Vertigo poster on the wall, but unlike James Stewart obsessively trying to get his new girlfriend to look like Kim Novak – this guy already looks like her late husband. Lucky for her, he’s also a nice guy and fun to be around. I’m not sure why, since he’s so devastated about his wife leaving him 10 years earlier, the ex is his confidante. It’s hard to buy the fact that he’d call her up and ask for advice on how to woo Nikki, although it does make for a fun scene with her ribbing him about sleeping with his art students.Robin Williams shows up as the neighbor. He’s sometimes difficult to watch in serious parts. He does this thing where he squints his eyes and bites his bottom lip as he talks. It can be distracting. Yet most of their scenes work, until we get the cliché story arc of him wanting to be more than just her friend and neighbor.
So much of the material wouldn’t ring true if these were characters in real life, but you’re watching two amazing actors and they lift it past the subpar screenplay, and soap opera and maudlin territory (which includes a score with lots of strings).
You can’t help but wonder why Nikki does some of the things she does. For example, she sticks to this story that her husband left her, not that he died. When the staff of a restaurant recognize the couple, he’s clearly confused. At that point she could easily say, “My husband had the same hairline as you, and since it’s been a few years since I’ve been here, they probably assume you are him.”
Instead, he just looks around sheepishly.
The scene where the daughter shows up could’ve been great, but instead – it’s just bizarre (I can’t explain without giving it away).
There are a few times you can’t help but think of other movies. When Annette Bening says on the phone, “Are you asking me for a date?”
Well, how can you not think about An American President?
When we see Ed Harris quickly splashes paints onto a canvas, you’ll think of Pollock.
The first half of this movie was more compelling, and I enjoyed the slow pacing that got us to know these characters with little dialogue. Even with a plot contrivance or two, it was working for me. Later in the movie, it starts to lose its way as Nikki becomes so obsessive it’s a bit sick. You also wonder that same thing you’ve thought in many other films – why not just tell the person one simple thing that will explain it all?
People are either going to love or hate the ending. I’m guessing more will love it, and I must say – I did. I was in tears watching how they concluded the story.
It gets 3 stars out of 5.