Patricia, I Love You, but This Film’s a Downer

Blind Date
Running time 80 minutes
Written by David Schechter and Stanley Tucci
Directed by Stanley Tucci
Starring Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci

One of the more fascinating and discerning actresses in the current cinema, New Orleans’ own Patricia Clarkson is always worth watching. Even when she’s wasted in small, inconsequential roles in Woody Allen movies, she stands out. Making every minute count is one of her particular skills, and that knack is doubly appreciated in a dull, pretentious muddle like Blind Date. An unnecessary remake of a dreadful 1996 Dutch film by Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004 by a religious nut who objected to the way he portrayed Islam in one of the small films he was so fond of making, the new English-language version of Blind Date has been written and directed by Stanley Tucci (who also stars in it) for reasons no rational person can explain. It was shot in seven days in Belgium and runs 80 minutes. Nothing has improved it one iota.

Mr. Tucci and Ms. Clarkson play an estranged (and strange) couple trying to pick up the pieces of their marriage after the death of their daughter, who narrates the action from beyond the grave. And the action, such as it is, centers on a series of “blind dates” in which the two grieving parents place personal ads in the paper, then meet each other as strangers, playing a number of different roles they invent for each other’s amusement. The ads change, but the man and woman always meet in the same claustrophobic bar, where Mr. Tucci sometimes acts as a bartender and other times mounts the stage in a magician’s costume and does clumsy tricks from a first-grader’s magic book. The newspaper ads separate the rendezvous tableaus, none of which add up to anything much. Responding to “Serious Reporter Seeks Aggressive Woman,” Ms. Clarkson shows up in the bar and throws a drink in Mr. Tucci’s face while he takes notes on a steno pad. “Blind Man Seeks Sighted Mate” leads to much hobbling about between bar stools, poking her with a cane. The scene is pointless, but at least it makes her laugh. Sometimes they dance. Sometimes they ride around the dance floor in a miniature fun-fair bumper car and he calls himself Maria. They can only deal with their pain when they play fictional characters. The things they cannot discuss openly or honestly with each other as themselves come easier when they’re pretending to be somebody else. Since neither character is ever explained or examined with any real insight, the viewer ceases to care early on. The overriding effect is paralyzing tedium.

I watched this thing on one of those damned DVD screeners with the word CINEMAVAULT strung across the middle of the screen for the entire 80 minutes—an annoyance that almost obliterated all chances of enjoyment. Seeing it in a theater, you might find it more bearable, but I doubt it. Neither star needs acting lessons, but this movie is so inert that it’s less about acting than coping. Stumbling through so many scenes that go nowhere, Mr. Tucci is sleepwalking, but Ms. Clarkson still manages to be mesmerizing. Her choices are human and full of surprises, and the way she breaks up her sentences in little punctuations keeps you riveted. Unfortunately, there’s no thrust, no edge and no drama in any of it. Such a lack of conventional narrative makes it all look improvised. The final personal ad in Blind Date, placed by Ms. Clarkson, is called “Woman Seeks Peace.” She brings a gun. You wonder why it took her so long.