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Six Degrees of Separation
Before he tamed the Wild, Wild West and she became the world's most shagadelic superspy, Will Smith and Heather Graham starred in this true story of a young man living on the hospitality of rich New Yorkers while claiming to be the son of Sydney Pottier. This tale of vanity and the phoniness of the upper crust of society is a wonderful rental for those who need their Will Smith fix, but can't get into the Wild, Wild West.
The movie opens with a business dinner between Geoffrey (Ian McKlellan), Flanders (Donald Sutherland) and Ouisa (Stockard Channing). Flanders is an ethically challenged art dealer who desperately needs to complete a deal and must have a $2 million investment from Geoffrey to succeed. The evening takes an unexpected turn when young Paul (Smith) shows up at the door claiming to be a friend of his children and suffering a knife wound from a mugging. Paul claims he is the son of famous actor Sydney Pottier and needs a place to stay until he meets his father the next morning. Paul charms the group with his intelligent conversation, masterful cooking and stories of his father. The evening is perfect, until Ouisa catches Paul with another man in their apartment.
The next day, Flanders and Ouisa must hurry to a wedding and are excited about the chance to tell the magnificent story to their snooty friends. However, Ouisa and Flanders soon run into Larkin (Bruce Davison) and Kitty (Mary Beth Hurt) who the same remarkable story. The group goes on a mission to find out if this mysterious stranger really is the son of Sydney Pottier. Along the way, they must confront their own strained familial relations and the emptiness of their own lives.
This is a true story that occurred on New York's East Side in the eighties. It was soon turned into a play starring Stockard Channing, who justifiably had the opportunity to star in the movie version. She is joined by a stellar ensemble.
Will Smith shows that he is a wonderful actor. While his most famous parts are in action/adventure movies, he has great range, which is on display in this movie. Smith is able to glide gracefully between scenes where is character is charming and amiable to other scenes where he shows his steely dark side.
Another actor who surprises is eighties teen movie idol Anthony Michael Hall. Hall plays a crucial role to the plot, so I won't give too much away. However, I will tell you that you won't recognize the same Hall you are accustomed to in movies like The Breakfast Club. He transforms himself into this darker role. Along with his recent performance in TNT's Pirates of Silicon Valley, Hall has a strong resume to shop around Hollywood as he looks to revive his career.
Sutherland and Channing put in the type of solid performances you would expect from these venerable veterans. Their characters exemplify the phoniness of the East Siders who are so wrapped up in dinner parties that they don't notice their families and life passing by. In a strange way, they are excited that this event has taken place because it is great fodder for cocktail conversation and it has brought some life into their dull, empty existence.
Of course, I must mention Heather Graham, who you might not even recognize as young, midwesterner Elizabeth. She puts in a great performance as the naïve, but quickly maturing victim of a scam. Along with her performance as Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, she also shows an acting ability that should be nurtured even as she becomes the latest "it" girl. Hopefully, she will wisely choose her next few projects as she becomes Hollywood's hottest starlet.
Director Fred Schlepisi does make some costly mistakes. Early in the movie, he includes strange dream sequences and quick shots that don't make any sense. Thankfully, he quickly drops them, and the movie becomes stronger until the ending sequence, which seems a little too drawn out. He does wisely put together the movie as a serious of flashbacks as each character tells their story of involvement with Paul. It is a strong job that he can be proud of.
Like the famous Kevin Bacon game (where I am a mere 3 degrees from Kevin Bacon), the movie tries to make the point that we are all just six degrees of separation from anyone else, so we should try to treat each other in a more civil and caring way. While the overall theme is lost in the movie, it is a great evening of entertainment and a chance to see some of the greatest actors in Hollywood.
Six Degrees of Separation: B+
Director: Fred Schepisi
Based on the play by: John Guare
Screenplay: John Guare
Will Smith Paul
Stockard Channing .. Oiusa
Donald Sutherland Flanders
Ian McKlellen .. Geoffrey
Mary Beth Hurt Kitty
Bruce Davison Larkin
Anthony Michael Hall .Trent Conway
Heather Graham Elizabeth
Copyright 1999 - Waffle Movies