Stars and Bars (1988)

Stars and Bars (1988)

Young Englishman Henderson Dores (Daniel Day-Lewis), yearning to give up his genteel British ways and be a bold and brash American, gets his chance when his New York firm sends him south to acquire a Renoir painting from Loomis Gage (Harry Dean Stanton), the eccentric head of an unusual family. Though engaged to Melissa (Laurie Metcalf), just before leaving, Dores meets Irene (Joan Cusack).

Stars and Bars is an American comedy film released in 1988, directed by Pat O’Connor and based on a book by William Boyd. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Henderson Dores. Other starring are Harry Dean Stanton, Kent Broadhurst, Maury Chaykin, Matthew Cowles, Joan Cusack, Keith David, Glenne Headly and Laurie Metcalf.

Film Review for Stars and Bars

Toward the middle of ”Stars and Bars,” Henderson Dores (Daniel Day-Lewis), a New York art-auction-house representative, arrives in Atlanta to register at one of those multi-story theme parks that are now the fashion in hotels in this country. The room clerk, smiling, gives Henderson his key and says, ”Follow the path through the atrium, then take the scenic elevator to the 35th floor.”

It’s another adventure for the impeccably tailored Henderson, an upper-middle-class Englishman for whom America is a coast-to-coast Disneyland. He makes his way through a man-made jungle of flora and chirping fauna to arrive at a boat landing. A smiling attendant greets him, draws up a canoe and directs him to paddle across to the elevator bank.

Stars and Bars (1988)

Henderson is contained by the canoe but, in the American sense, he’s not really into it. Ever game, he attempts to cope with the paddle, his briefcase and the confusion caused by the other canoes, each going in a different direction. He frowns slightly. The paddle seems very long and awkward. The canoes bump and get turned around. Traffic becomes snarled. Canoe-gridlock threatens. When he reaches the far side and the canoe capsizes, Henderson steps into the stagnant lagoon, into calf-high water, and strides toward dry floor as if crossing a street in Belgravia.

It’s a short, virtually throw-away sequence that briefly recalls the elevated nuttiness of William Powell in ”Libeled Lady” and Cary Grant in ”Bringing Up Baby.” It’s also further confirmation that Daniel Day-Lewis (”My Beautiful Laundrette,” ”A Room With a View,” ”The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) is well on his way to becoming the actor who really can do anything.

In ”Stars and Bars,”, he gives a heroically funny, high-style comedy performance that’s up to its knees in slapstick. Just how he pulls it off is not easily analyzed. His role, written by William Boyd, is a good one, and Pat O’Connor, the director who earlier did ”Cal,” appears to respond to him. Yet there’s a streak of intense, cockeyed, singular sensitivity in Mr. Day-Lewis’s performance that sets him apart from all his contemporaries, and keeps ”Stars and Bars” in focus even when its comic points become a bit blunt.

The screenplay, adapted by Mr. Boyd from his own novel, is full of funny moments that, as the film proceeds, seem increasingly isolated from each other. ”Stars and Bars” never gathers comic momentum. It’s difficult to tell whether this is the result of the writing or the direction, or of some combination of each, even though the individual scenes sometimes work beautifully.

It may have something to do with the form. In ”Stars and Bars” Mr. Day-Lewis plays yet another variation on the sophisticated European traveler in the land that, not by chance, gave us Oz and its phenomenally successful, phony wizard. Most of the people he meets are so broadly eccentric they could well inhabit another form of fiction.

”Stars and Bars” is about the education (and liberation) of Henderson Dores when he’s sent into the Deep South to acquire a long-lost Renoir from Loomis Gage (Harry Dean Stanton), the patriarch of a relentlessly oddball, aristocratic Southern family. Complicating the negotiations are Henderson’s New York fiancee, her teen-age daughter, another young woman with whom Henderson has recently fallen in love, and some New York lowlifes representing a competing auction house.

The excellent supporting cast, whose material never quite matches that given the star, includes Spalding Gray, Glenne Headly, Matthew Cowles, Maury Chaykin, Laurie Metcalf, Martha Plimpton, Joan Cusack and Will Patton. They’re some of New York’s finest.

Henderson Dores is no Tocqueville. He’s too innocent. Criticism never passes his lips. He’s also too polite and well bred ever to express anything but determined, sometimes delighted bewilderment, whether being attacked by a paranoid New Yorker or walking down Broadway wearing nothing but a piece of cardboard. Through it all, Mr. Day-Lewis remains a figure of true comic stature.

Stars and Bars Movie Poster (1988)

Stars and Bars (1988)

Directed by: Pat O’Connor
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton, Kent Broadhurst, Maury Chaykin, Matthew Cowles, Joan Cusack, Keith David, Glenne Headly, Laurie Metcalf
Screenplay by: William Boyd
Production Design by: Stuart Craig, Leslie Dilley
Cinematography by: Jerzy Zielinski
Film Editing by: Michael Bradsell
Costume Design by: Ann Roth
Set Decoration by: Anne Kuljian
Art Direction by: Becky Block
Music by: Stanley Myers
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: March 18, 1988