If you can put up with all the archness and self-consciousness—there’s quite a bit of both—this is an enjoyable romantic comedy (2000) about a pop music junkie (John Cusack) in Wicker Park who runs an old-fashioned record store and can’t seem to sustain a long-term relationship. Cusack joined forces with fellow producers D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink as well as Scott Rosenberg on the script, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s English novel that transposes settings with ease, and director Stephen Frears keeps things simmering. Two pluses: the humor about male neurosis doesn’t try to remind you of Woody Allen at every turn, and the Chicago settings and atmosphere are made to seem relatively cutting edge for a change, rather than appropriate only for car chases. With Jack Black and Lisa Bonet. 113 min. (JR)
A very curious and eclectic piece of workfresh even when it’s awkwardthat’s built around an unsolved mystery, like Picnic at Hanging Rock. Adapted from a Jeffrey Eugenides novel by director Sofia Coppola, and set in small-town Michigan a quarter of a century ago, it focuses on five teenage sisters as perceived by some of their male classmates; James Woods and Kathleen Turner play the girls’ parents and Giovanni Ribisi narrates. With Kirsten Dunst, Hanna R. Hall, Chelsea Swain, A.J. Cook, Leslie Hayman, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito, and Scott Glenn. 96 min. (JR)
If you assumed, as I did, that this feature by Tom Tykwer (1997, 122 min.) followed his monstrously successful and seemingly less personal Run Lola Run, you’d be wrong. An odd, ambitious melodrama about two couples who share an Alpine villa in scenic Berchtesgaden, this is very much a rural film, and though it’s every bit as striking visually and self-consciously contrived in terms of storytelling as Lola, it’s a lot likelier to leave you querulous. A translator (Floriane Daniel) becomes involved with a ski instructor (Heino Ferch) and her housemate, a nurse (Marie-Lou Sellem) who becomes involved with a film projectionist (Ulrich Matthes); there’s also a local farmer (Josef Bierbichler) whose daughter is critically injured in a car accident in the film’s opening moments. None of these characters is standard issue, and Tykwer works overtime with his ‘Scope framing, elaborate color coding, and metaphysical thematics to make their interactions seem significant, and at times erotic as well. I can’t yet decide whether the film works or not, but it certainly held me for its full two hours. (JR)
An unlikely 70s romance between a Catholic activist (Jennifer Connelly) working with Chileans and a young mainstream liberal politician (Billy Crudup) ends when she’s killed in a car bombing, but he can’t shake her memory. Keith Gordon’s haunting and heartfelt feature, adapted from a Scott Spencer novel by Robert Dillon, may be rough around the edges, and the allegorical and political aspects of the story won’t be to everyone’s taste, yet Connelly’s unshowy performance is so sensational that it makes up for lots of problems. The story ricochets between the 70s and 80s with such purity of emotion that the storytelling never falters, even when some of the secondary characters fail to convince. Jodie Foster served as executive producer, and she and Gordon should both be commended for getting behind an offbeat project of this kind. (JR)
Alan Berliner’s essayistic documentary (1996) about his crotchety father, his relationship with him, and family memories in general is a wonderful piece of work that’s every bit as entertaining, thoughtful, and distinctive as Intimate Stranger (1992), Berliner’s earlier feature about his maternal grandfather. This long-overdue Chicago premiere is well worth checking out. St. Xavier Univ. McGuire Hall, 3700 W. 103rd St., Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, 7:00, 773-298-3193.