I have to admit that I was tempted to be a little bit snarky in my review of the 1988 Best Picture nominee, The Accidental Tourist. I was going to say that The Accidental Tourist was a perfect example of a genre of film that has always been oddly popular with the Academy, the emotionally stunted man in New England learns to love again genre.
But, then I realized that I was wrong. The Accidental Tourist does not take place in New England. It takes place in Baltimore which may be located up north but which is technically considered to be part of the mid-Atlantic. But, even with that in mind, it was impossible for me to watch The Accidental Tourist without thinking of other New England-set Oscar nominees, such as Mystic River and Manchester By The Sea.
As for the film itself, it’s about a man whose depressing life would be unbearable to watch if not for the fact that everyone around him is so extremely eccentric. Macon Leary (William Hurt) is a travel writer. He’s writes books giving people advice on how best to behave while seeing the world. Throughout the film, we hear snippets of his prose. Macon warns people about overpacking. He warns them about arriving late at the airport. He warns them about not properly planning out their trip. He suggests that travelers bring a book to read but not too many books. And don’t bring magazines because they get wrinkled too easily. Now, to be honest, I liked most of Macon’s advice but then again, I’m OCD and I spend most of my time trying to make sure that everything I own is properly organized and can be equally divided.
A year ago, during a fast food robbery, Macon’s son was shot and killed. Withdrawing from the world, Macon barely reacts when his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner), leaves him. After breaking his leg while trying to convince his dog to climb down the stairs into the laundry room, Macon ends up moving in with his three siblings: autocratic Porter (David Ogden Stiers), slightly less autocratic Charles (Ed Begley, Jr.) and sweet but neurotic Rose (Amy Wright).
And so it goes. Even when his agent, Julian (Bill Pullman), starts to date Rose, Macon can’t bring himself to open up emotionally. Fortunately, Macon meets Muriel (Geena Davis), a quirky dog trainer. Though it takes a while, Muriel starts to pull Macon out of his shell. Soon, Macon is spending his nights over at her apartment and bonding with her sickly son.
(Why does every single mother in these type of movies have a sickly son? Just for once, couldn’t a single mother be portrayed as having a child who is well-adjusted, popular, and healthy?)
But, just when everything seems to be perfect, Macon’s phone rings. It’s Sarah and she wants to give their marriage another chance…
Just judging from the tone of this review, you’re probably thinking that I disliked The Accidental Tourist. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. While the film’s mix of grim reality and relentlessly quirky supporting character can be a bit overwhelming at first, the film works if you stick with it. That’s the thing — you have to stick with it. When William Hurt first stares at the camera with his dead eyes and starts to drone about the importance of not spending too much money while in Paris, it’s tempting to just give up. But, as the film progresses, it improves and so does Hurt’s performance. By the time he finally worked up the strength to hold Muriel’s son’s hand while walking the boy home from school, I had tears in my mismatched eyes.
The Accidental Tourist is low-key but rather sweet film. While the film centers around the performances of Hurt and Geena Davis (who won an Oscar for her work here), my favorite performances came from Bill Pullman and Amy Wright. I honestly would happily watch a film that was just about their characters.
The Accidental Tourist was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Rain Man.