Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Girl from Petrovka (1974)

Goldie Hawn’s career took some odd turns between her late-’60s breakout period as a goofy starlet and her late-’70s ascension to A-list status in light comedies. For instance, around the same time Hawn made a credible dive into dramatic material with The Sugarland Express (1974), she toplined this unsuccessful attempt at blending comedy with drama. It’s not difficult to see what might have appealed to Hawn, since her role requires a foreign accent and the character she plays exerts a profound influence on everyone she meets. Unfortunately, Hawn is wrong for the role on nearly every level. Her accent is amateurish (and sometimes completely absent); her hippy-dippy persona makes the film’s central notion of a free spirit in a totalitarian state far too literal; and the fact that she’s 20 years younger than her main love interest, costar Hal Holbrook, gives the whole enterprise a seedy quality. In Hawn’s defense, however, The Girl from Petrovka is so poorly assembled that better casting wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Adapted from a book by George Feifer, the movie takes place in Moscow, where American journalist Joe (Holbrook) meets a community of artists including flighty ballerina Oktyabrina (Hawn). Blonde and giggly and unreliable, Oktyabrina worms her way into Joe’s life, taking advantage of his apartment and his expense account while she operates outside the Soviet legal structure. (She has no papers.) As the turgid storyline progresses, Joe inexplicably falls for Oktyabrina while she directs her affections toward a young lover and an elderly sugar daddy. Eventually, the Joe and Oktyabrina attempt couplehood until her scofflaw status creates problems. Even though The Girl from Petrovka has admirable qualities, such as atmospheric location cinematography (Austria subs for Russia) and mature performances by Holbrook and costar Anthony Hopkins, the failure of the title character to command audience attention derails the film. Worse, the movie’s attempt to shift into quasi-tragic mode at the end clashes with the lighthearted vapidity of what’s come before. Many great stories were told during the Soviet era about the complexities of finding love in the U.S.S.R., but The Girl from Petrovka is not one of them.

The Girl from Petrovka: LAME

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