Nadine (1987)

Nadine (1987)

Taglines: They’re a couple on the run… From each other.

Working in an Austin, Texas, beauty parlour in 1954, Nadine Hightower endeavours to retrieve some ‘art studies’ she injudiciously had taken. Her visit to the photographer leaves him dead and her in possession of highly valuable plans of a proposed new road. With both the police and the murderous villains after her she enlists the help of her (almost) ex-husband Vernon, the none too successful owner of the Bluebonnet Bar. Fortunately the thugs are as much no-hopers as the Hightowers.

Nadine is a 1987 comedy film directed by Robert Benton and starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Rip Torn, Gwen Verdon, Glenne Headly, Jerry Stiller, Jay Patterson, William Youmans, Mickey Jones and Harlan Jordan.

Film Review for Nadine

Nadine and Vernon Hightower are Splitsville. The time is the early 1950’s, but theirs is not a separation that would interest Walter Winchell. It’s not even news in Austin, Tex., where Nadine is a hairdresser in the Alamo Beauty Shop and Vernon runs a losing proposition called the Bluebonnet Lounge, the sort of roadhouse that does six dollars and change on a busy night.

Though romantically disadvantaged, Nadine (Kim Basinger) and Vernon (Jeff Bridges) are very winning characters. They are the flip sides of the tormented lovers in Sam Shepard’s ”Fool for Love,” unencumbered by a past that includes anything more serious than Vernon’s failed get-rich-quick schemes and Nadine’s desire to lead a life of bourgeois respectability. They are the high-school homecoming queen and the football hero 12 years after graduation and not a minute brighter.

Nadine (1987)

In ”Nadine,” Robert Benton’s easily identifiable, very amiable new comedy, Nadine and Vernon find themselves up to their eyeballs in lunatic events that constantly threaten to overwhelm them as well as the movie. However, they’re always saved in the nick, not by fate (or plot) but by Mr. Benton’s commitment to character, and by his inability to go for more than three or four minutes without coming up with a line of dialogue or a bit of business that immediately separates the work of a first-rate artist from that of a hack.

At the beginning of the film, Nadine is pregnant but, standing on her pride, she won’t tell Vernon. She’s refusing to sign the divorce papers until he gives her a new Buick with white sidewalls, well knowing that Vernon, in his present state of economic collapse, couldn’t even afford the sidewalls. Then, too, she’s jealous of Vernon’s new girlfriend, Renee (Glenne Headly). By chance, Renee works in the accounts receivable department at the Lone Star Brewery where Vernon’s account grows monthly. Says Vernon, by way of explaining his tardiness, ”I’m good for it, but it’s just that all my money is tied up in . . . assets and stuff.”

Nadine and Vernon are initially brought back together by murder. Nadine has had the bad luck to be in the office of a sleazy photographer, trying to retrieve some ”art studies” for which she posed, when the photographer is murdered. Making a second attempt to get the pictures, she and Vernon find, instead, evidence of a major real-estate scam, which Vernon decides to cut himself in on.

Mr. Benton is not particularly comfortable in laying out the details of the scam. This functions as the film’s McGuffin – the coded message or top-secret plans on which Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage films often relied but which were, in themselves, beside the point and utterly meaningless.

Nadine (1987) - Kim Basinger

In ”Nadine” the scam is the convenience that throws Nadine and Vernon into a series of extremely unlikely slapstick situations, most often in confrontation with a local Mr. Big played with exuberantly nasty good humor by Rip Torn. The couple is kidnapped, threatened with rattlesnakes, besieged in an empty house and, finally, the object of a chase through a junkyard where, at one point, they hide in the explosives shack.

In Mr. Benton’s best films, from ”Bad Company” (written with David Newman) and ”The Late Show” through ”Places in the Heart,” characters are revealed entirely through events that grow out of character. In ”Nadine,” the wild events appear to have been imposed on the characters. One result is that ”Nadine” lurches from one comic set piece to the next, without the airy self-confidence that renders logic superfluous.

What makes the film enjoyable and funny is not its strained zaniness, but the utter seriousness with which Nadine and Vernon and everyone else in the film attempt to cope with an unreasoning landscape. Says Vernon to Nadine, while he’s being beaten to a pulp in an unequal fight: ”Don’t worry, honey. I’m on a roll.” The phrase may be an anachronism, but the emotion isn’t.

All of the performances are excellent, especially those of Miss Basinger, who played the tragic side of Nadine in the film version of ”Fool for Love,” and Mr. Bridges, even when the movie appears to cut away from them to what’s being done to them. In addition to Mr. Torn and Miss Headly, who has one of the film’s funniest scenes, the fine supporting cast includes Jerry Stiller, memorably priceless as the lewd photographer, Mickey Jones as one of Mr. Torn’s slow-witted goons, and Gwen Verdon, who could have done more if she’d had the material.

Nadine Movie Poster (1987)

Nadine (1987)

Directed by: Robert Benton
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, Rip Torn, Gwen Verdon, Glenne Headly, Jerry Stiller, Jay Patterson, William Youmans, Mickey Jones, Harlan Jordan
Screenplay by: Robert Benton
Production Design by: Paul Sylbert
Cinematography by: Néstor Almendros
Film Editing by: Sam O’Steen
Costume Design by: Albert Wolsky
Set Decoration by: Lee Pall
Art Direction by: Peter Landsdown Smith, Cary White
Music by: Howard Shore
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: August 7, 1987