Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Echoes of a Summer (1976)

          Were it not for the presence in the cast of two extraordinary actors, the pretentious tearjerker Echoes of a Summer would be of less than negligible interest. Adapted by Robert L. Joseph from his play The Isle of Children, this talkfest is filled with fanciful wordplay, whimsical contrivances, and preteens who speak with absurd eloquence. Joseph contrives a universe in which people articulate their feelings “poetically,” so the characters in Echoes of a Summer are as likely to express themselves through esoteric historical references as they are through meticulously crafted metaphors. And while Joseph occasionally hits the bull’s-eye with a line that conveys some simple emotional truth, getting there requires slogging through lots of florid nonsense. As a result, watching Echoes of a Summer quickly grows tiresomeunless one surrenders to the very different pleasures offered by the work of the two stars, Jodie Foster and Richard Harris.
          Foster plays a 12-year-old girl facing imminent death because of heart problems, and Harris plays her anguished father, a professional writer who buys a lake house so his daughter’s last summer on earth is peaceful. Foster, who was already a veteran child actor by the time she made this film, delivers confident and sensitive work that embellishes her status as one of the most impressive youth performers ever to work in Hollywood. Even though her character is preternaturally sophisticated, Foster makes the role feel as organic as possible by tapping into her own natural intelligence—and if her acting never tugs at the heartstrings, per se, that’s a compliment to the good taste she exhibits, since Foster never takes cheap emotional shots for schmaltzy effect. Harris, meanwhile, provides the opposite of realism, opting instead for grandiose romanticism. Brooding around the film’s lovely Nova Scotia locations while reciting poetry, singing, and spinning imaginative stories for the amusement of Foster’s character, Harris incarnates a Superdad who devotes his life to filling each of his little girl’s final moments with laughter and wonderment. Whether this characterization comes across as endearing or overbearing is entirely a matter of taste, but none would dispute the assertion that Harris attacks his role with gusto.
          Given the film’s focus on an intense father-daughter connection, it falls to poor costar Lois Nettleton, playing the mother of the story’s central family, to function as the de facto villain, a woman mired in denial and depression. The process of bringing Nettleton’s character around to grace (a word sprinkled liberally through the movie’s dialogue) is highly contrived, culminating in a silly final scene of a play-within-a-play presented for the benefit of the dying girl. Despite its sincere intentions, alas, Echoes of a Summer is ultimately as affected and trite as the awful theme song that plays over the opening and closing credits, written and sung (if that’s the right word) by Harris.

Echoes of a Summer: FUNKY

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