The country-Western trend goes on -- with music

Honeysuckle Rose is a movie that asks the musical question, how much country-Western can we stand in a single season? Country songs and themes have cropped up in all kinds of pictures, from "Urban Cowboy" to "Bronco Billy" and "Roadie." And there's more to come. Even Smokey and the Bandit refuse to fade quietly away, with Part II of their misadventures currently racing across the scene.

"Honeysuckle Rose" takes its cue from "intermezzo," the venerable tale about a famous musician and his infidelities. Only this time the hero is a popular singing star, played by Willie Nelson, a singing star himself. He falls in love with his best friend's guitar-picking daughter, which almost wrecks everyone's lives, not to mention the big concert at the climax of the film.

The cowboy-style characters of "Honeysuckle Rose are an earthly lot, and their story has moments that are hardly delicate. The picture's main problem is not so much crudity of images and language, though, as crudity of ideas. The resolution of the story bothers me, for example, with its childish suggestion that a little drunken horseplay is all the hero needs to clear his mind and point him back to his proper place in life.

then too, Rose" is a rather dull picture. If you've stored up any movie lore , you'll know how the plot is going to develop, and there won't be a single surprise along the way. It's a stale situation, really, and there's little reason to rehash it yet again.

Still, for many fans the bottom line of the film will be Willie Nelson, who makes a good showing on the wide screen with a charisma that was barely suggested by his bit part in "The Electric Horseman." He's an unlikely movie star for the '80s -- long-haired, weatherbeaten, and far from boyish, with a truly lived-in face. Yet he has captured the imagination of a lot of listeners, and now moviegoers are eagerly following his trail. We'll be seeing more of him in the future, for certain.

Another new picture about a romantic triangle is Willie & Phil. It comes from Paul Mazursky, whose films include the successful "An Unmarried Women."

The story focuses on two young men who meet at a showing of "Jules and Jim." Like the heroes of that classic, they then fall headlong in love with the same woman and spend the rest of the movie trying to sort out their mightily mixed emotions.

"Willie & Phil" contains a few explicit glimpses of sexual activity, and some of its language is vehemently vulgar. Though it's a comedy, Mazursky is not aiming at gentle entertainment. In it's way, it's a strongly cautionary tale -- laced with humor and absurdity, but pleading for some way out of the "desperate freedom" that has trapped the main characters.

Shortly after seeing "Willie & Phil," I asked Mazursky about the themes of the movie, which takes place during the 1970s. "This isn't the age of anxiety," he replied. "It's the age of confusion. This freedom is confusing the kids who engage in it. Since you can supposedly do anything, it all becomes aimless."

Faced with this situation, Mazursky finds that even the '60s look good by comparison. "There was a passion then," he says. "People weren't confused; they were fighting. Passion gives you something to hold on to. But in the '80s , there's not much serious political or religious conviction around, at least among the urban crowd. There's just a lot of openness, and I don't know where it's going. Even today's films are metaphors for this -- aimless movies that don't mean anything."

As Mazursky sees it, "People want someone to close things off, and tell them what to do. Willie and Phil by the collar and tell them where it's at. But there's no magic solution like that, so they have to go through their experiences of confusion and pain. Maybe it's all a reflection of me and my perceptions. Lots of people around me seem to be drowning in a lack of direction, questioning old values, and not sure about the new values because we replace them so quickly.

"Willie and Phil really like each other, and their friendship is a major part of the movie. But they really are baffled; they can't figure out what to do. Finally the woman makes a decision for them. Women didm gain a lot of strength from the '70s, since they had a huge cause to fight for.

"So in the end, Willie and Phil do go off and lead ordinary, middle-class lives. And that's tremendously important. I believe deeply in my family -- I've been married 27 years to the same woman, I have children, and I don't know where I'd be without them. Willie and Phil have trouble attaining these things, because young people are terribly confused about wanting a family, and the responsibility of having a kid seems stranger and more challenging that it did in the '50s. But in the end, even Willie and Phil manage to leave their exotic romance and go on to normal, everyday lives.

"So the movie becomes a kind of fairy tale for our time. I'm attempting to elevate the ordinariness and middle- classness into something a little larger than life -- something universal, even though it's very small."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.