'She's So Lovely' Is a Family Creation

Director Nick Cassavetes picks up where his father, John, left off

'She's So Lovely" has enough powerful star names - John Travolta, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn - to make it a must-see item in the opening days of the World Film Festival here, and to brighten its marquee value as it now arrives in American theaters.

But for many moviegoers, the name to consider is farther down in the credits: Cassavetes, identifying both the director (Nick) and the writer (John) of the tale.

The father of this father-son team, the late John Cassavetes, was best known as a Hollywood actor with hits like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Dirty Dozen" on his rsum.

Using his earnings from this, he forged an even more important career as writer, director, and frequent star of his own movies - shaggy, boisterous, unbelievably energetic human dramas that capture the flavor of real experience in ways Hollywood rarely approaches.

Pictures like "Faces" and "A Woman Under the Influence" reflected his conviction that a meaningful film should not be "entertainment" but "exploring" and "asking questions of people," to quote him from critic Raymond Carney's excellent book "The Films of John Cassavetes."

Cassavetes's films often deal with families, and he saw filmmaking as a family affair, often featuring his wife - Gena Rowlands, a major star in her own right - in leading roles.

Now their son, Nick Cassavetes, has picked up where John left off. The younger Cassavetes directed his mother in last year's "Unhook the Stars," about a woman reaffirming her sense of adventure through her relationship with a troubled young neighbor. This year he returns with "She's So Lovely," based on a script his father wrote some 20 years ago but never brought to the screen.

Mr. Penn and Ms. Penn play Eddie and Maureen, a working-class couple who lives an undisciplined but basically satisfying life. Eddie has a troubling weakness for violence, and an attack on Maureen by an eccentric neighbor sends him over the edge, landing him in prison for a long stretch.

Returning to society, he finds Maureen now married to a more conventional fellow who obviously loves her very much. How should the men react to each other, and where do Maureen's loyalties ultimately lie? Nobody knows for certain, producing an emotional puzzle that galvanizes the movie's last portion.

At its best, "She's So Lovely" has the anything-goes turbulence and on-the-edge audacity that made John Cassavetes a cinematic legend whose reputation keeps rising steadily to this day. At its weakest, it courts roughness and rawness for their own sakes. Speaking to journalists at this spring's Cannes filmfest, the younger Cassavetes said he didn't change the script much except to remove some things he didn't understand.

In all, "She's So Lovely" is second-best Cassavetes but still one of late summer's more adventurous releases, helped by strong performances from its talented stars and from the great Rowlands in a minor role.

In an admirable move, Miramax Films is launching the movie with "Love on the Edge," a mini-retrospective of six John Cassavetes films: the rarely shown "Love Streams" and "Minnie and Moskowitz" and the classic "Shadows," "Faces," "Husbands," and "A Woman Under the Influence." The series continues through Sept. 4 in New York and Boston and just finished a Los Angeles run. In their first New York weekend, according to Miramax, the films had the city's highest per-screen average earnings, outdrawing every new movie in town.

* 'She's So Lovely' has an R rating; it contains violence and foul language.

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