Last Summer In The Hamptons

Directed by Henry Jaglom

This is the first film by Henry Jaglom I’ve seen so I’m not sure how much justice I can do in this critique because after reading about his previous films, they all seem to be variations on the same technique: They’re home movies. Apparently Jaglom has been more or less charting his life for fifteen years now, gathering his friends in front of the camera for mutual analysis, heavy on the psychobabble. Because his friends are verbal and unselfconscious, these exercises are entertaining, in an unwound, disorganized sort of way. Last Summer In The Hamptons, for example, exists on the flimsiest premise, and yet while you’re watching it you’re interested—sort of. It’s hard to recommend a movie like this, however, because it is so determined to be talky, amateurish and self-indulgent. Jaglom’s camera style is heavy on the documentary feel as well, with pulled in close-ups on the character who is expected to show emotion at any second simply because of the staged situation.

Filmed on location in East Hampton, Long Island, "Last Summer in the Hamptons" concerns three generations of a large and brilliant theatrical family spending the last weekend of their summer together at the decades-old family retreat which economic circumstances have finally forced them to put on the market: They’re artists, what do they know about keeping up payments on a mortgage?

Oona Hart (Victoria Foyt, Jaglom’s wife, who also co-wrote the film with her husband) heads the cast as a new Hollywood movie star whose unexpected visit wreaks havoc on this group of family and friends - led by matriarch Helena (Viveca Lindfors) and made up of an extraordinary mixture of prominent New York actors, directors and playwrights (Andre Gregory, Roddy McDowell, Roscoe Lee Browne). In the course of a very unusual weekend, a series of comic as well as serious situations arise, and the family’s secrets—of which there are many—slowly begin to unravel. When Oona arrives she is so intimidated by the family that she falls back on a method acting technique to help her with her stagefright: She thinks about the situation at hand, decides what emotional response she wants to cloak herself in and then chooses a particular animal to dissolve into. She starts out as a baby harp seal (THIS is hilarious), to underline her initial vulnerability; then, as the film progresses, becomes a leopard when she feels predatorily sexual. But she’s sizing up the wrong guy: Jake (Jon Robin Baitz) is a gay playwright who is the only member of the family to call them on their incessant politics and, as he puts it, the poisonous motivations of an eel: electrify and move on. (One of the psychological casualties is Chloe (Martha Plimpton) the youngest daughter of the family, a tomboy who has stripped away any remote notion of femininity from her personality years ago to confound her father, and he is CLUELESS about her.) Someone else is after Jake, too. A hulking hunk named George whom Jake very easily seduces even though he knows he’s not gay, and then berates him for feigning homosexuality later when George tries coming on to him. (Huh?) The thing is, though, that both of his seducers call the play he’s just finished "brilliant" and practically throw themselves at him simply because they each realize that he’s the only member of the family tenacious enough, and with enough distance from the dysfunctional parts of his family, to actually be trying to accomplish something on his own. Then there’s Jake’s sister, Trish, played by the visually striking Melissa Leo, who has to continually suffer the fact that any guy she’s interested in, her brother swoops in and seduces immediately, distracting any prospective suitor from her. She’s at wits end before the film is over, and in her moment of despair is able to subsequently draw the family together briefly, but it’s not to last. The show, after all, must go on.

Helena (Viveca Lindfors) is the true emotional center of the film. I don’t know what it is about aging silver screen stars, but when ravishing beauties overflowing with talent get into their later years, there is such an air of wisdom and experience about them that everyone else around them just seems foolish, vain and egocentric. Think of Jeanne Moreau or Catherine Deneuve. Viveca (dropping her ‘Helena’ persona briefly) reminisces about her past in film and at one point discusses the leading men she played off in the late 40s: Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, as she’s watching tapes of her own old films (Adventures of Don Juan, where Flynn saves her, as an absolutely ravishing Queen Margaret of Spain, from a traitor’s skullduggery; and Night Unto Night, about the relationship between a dying scientist and a mentally disturbed widow) on the television late at night.

There’s an old stage adage about the playwright Chekhov and his plays: If a gun is introduced in the first act, it will be used in the third act—and Chekhov, along with James Joyce and Jean Renoir, are not only plundered, but apologized to in the credits to this film for what they obliviously added to this production. The old stage adage does hold true, for what turns into a punchline only if you’re familiar with the adage, but at that dry point in the film an inside joke is a joke nonetheless. The timing is great because it completely throws off the momentum of Oona who has by that time turned her attention to ANOTHER prospective victim of her upwardly mobile yet horizontal bop motivated modus operandi: a producer of plays in the Midwest. They hit it off without her even having the time to think of what animal she can resort to for motivation. I swear I’m not making this up.

This is Jaglom’s eleventh film (some of the others are Babyfever, Venice/Venice, Eating, New Year’s Day, Someone To Love, Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?, Sitting Ducks and Always). It is part of Jaglom’s approach, I think, that faces and conversation are more important than locations and atmosphere, and you will not see much of East Hampton (As I hear that one doesn’t see much of Venice, Italy or Venice, California in Venice/Venice) in this movie except over the actors’ shoulders. Life in the Jaglom orbit seems to be like one continuous salon. Friends drop in, sing a song at the piano, tell a joke, share a fear, contribute an insight and drift away. If you know and love theater, you’ll find this an entertaining couple of hours. If you can’t tell your Ibsen from your Williams, this may all just seem like someone else’s home movie.