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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/4/01

Still Breathing
1998 (2000) - October Films (USA Films)

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Still Breathing Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/B-

Specs and Features

110 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by writer/director James F. Robinson, cast filmographies, "lost" scene, DVD-ROM features (including access to the film's screenplay and website), film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

"You think I'm going to fall in love with you?"

"Well... yeah."

The age old formula of romantic comedies is boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy or girl screws up, boy or girl realizes they belong together and makes up with the other and, finally, boy and girl live happily ever after. The job then falls to the writers and directors out there to make this formula feel fresh and different, by putting new twists on it, thus making us wonder if (once again) the boy and girl will end up together.

In the case of James F. Robinson's first feature, Still Breathing, he puts forth an astonishingly unique twist to that formula, one that focuses on the "fairy tale" aspect of love. Fletcher McBraken (Brendan Fraser) is a sweet, soft-spoken Texas street performer and artist, who comes from a long line of men that dream of their true loves and then set out on quests to find them. It's not as simple as connecting the dots though, as Fletcher only gets bits and pieces of who his true love is - an image of a young boy and girl playing by a river, a neon sign that says "Formosa," and various other vague signs and portents. Believing the sign that reads "Formosa" is the name of the place she's from, Fletcher discovers that Formosa is the name of an island in the South Pacific, and books a flight to head out there. It's then that Fate intervenes (showing him that Formosa is also a bar in L.A.) and sends Fletcher to Los Angeles, where his true destiny awaits.

Enter Rosalyn Willoughby (Joanna Going), a jaded L.A. con artist who preys upon the men who are attracted to her by getting them to buy fake art from one of her friend's (Ann Magnuson) mock galleries at skyrocketed prices. After they do so, she casts them aside (in often amusing ways) and moves on to the next victim. It's when Fate strikes again (and switches her latest mark - a rich Texan - for Fletcher) that, as they say, "the boy meets the girl."

Fletcher's kind demeanor throws Rosalyn for a loop, as he quickly starts to get to her, exposing her for a torch-carrying romantic and kind soul. This realization, of course, doesn't sit well with Rosalyn, and her con artist instincts kick in. Fletcher also struggles with holding onto her as he tries to find ways to tell her about his family's history and his dreams. But through more appearances by Fate (which almost becomes a secondary character in itself), it seems that the age-old story could very well come true despite the obstacles

Still Breathing is a film that asks you to believe there are "fantasy" aspects to love. As ridiculous as the idea of coming from a family who dreams of their first loves is... for some reason you don't find yourself questioning it. You also don't wonder why twenty-odd coincidences keep these characters together - you just believe in them. I think that's a great thing to say about a film... that you're willing to suspend belief simply because the characters are so engaging and the story is so intoxicating. It's simply a fairy tale for the modern age.

Fraser and Going are wonderful together, as each actor takes the opposite approach to the typical love story. Fraser's Fletcher embraces the feminine aspects of love, while Going's Rosalyn takes on the more masculine angles. The supporting cast also features some fine work by Celeste Holm, Lou Rawls and Angus MacFadyen (as Fletcher's eccentric family and friends). There's also a lot to be said for the stunning photography and settings, particularly the Alamo, which serves as a strange epicenter for the story (for reasons I won't spoil here). All in all, it's a bizarre and, at times, unexplainable tale, that somehow manages to be everything you'd want from a love story.

Let's talk about the disc itself. USA Films has done an outstanding job with most of its DVD releases, and that's the case here. The film is presented in a nice (albeit not anamorphic) widescreen transfer, that does justice to all the imagery and sounds that are crucial to the story. There are a few dust/dirt artifacts visible on the print, and there's quite a bit of "pixelation" in the outdoor scenes, but nothing I found particularly distracting. The Dolby 2.0 sound mix isn't anything to write home about, but serves the dialogue-heavy film well.

As far as extras go, the key feature is writer/director James F. Robinson's audio commentary, which talks about a lot of what I've mentioned here - particularly the twists on the typical romantic comedy. He also spends quite a lot of time on the music and art pieces that appear in the film, giving you a small art and music history lesson throughout the commentary. The only annoying part is his tendency to point out all the extra shots and cuts that were added into the DVD (barely 2 minutes worth in total that I can tell). Also included on the disc is a brief "lost scene" that shows a few more moments of Fate working its magic on the characters. It runs about 3 minutes. Rounding out the disc are the usual suspects - a trailer, cast and crew biographies and an odd featurette that consists of each of the crew members introducing themselves and saying what they do. Lastly, those with DVD-ROM capabilities can enjoy the film's archived web site, as well as the complete screenplay (including each of the script's drafts as well).

All in all, Still Breathing is one of those diamonds in the rough that you're lucky enough to find every once in a while. If you're one of those people that does believe in fairy tale love (or maybe just need some affirmation in believing), then this is the film for you. It also doesn't hurt that you get a fine DVD, with some nice extras for your efforts.

Brian Ford Sullivan
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