Stop Before You Get to This City
by Molly Templeton
It’s never fun to find a James Ivory film underwhelming. His last film, 2005’s The White Countess, was a pale shade of the period films he’s best known for — Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day, A Room With a View. The City of Your Final Destination, Ivory’s latest film, shares more than a few traits with Countess: A stellar cast; a story about expats and travelers; a tendency to drag and to hint weakly at character development and connection without ever really finding its footing.
City follows Omar (Omar Metwally), a doctoral student hoping to write a biography of James Gund, a deceased writer famous for just one book. His request for authorization comes back denied by the remnants of Gund’s family: his wife, Caroline (Laura Linney, distressingly miscast); his mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg); and his brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), who all live together in what’s meant to be eclectic fashion in Uruguay. Omar is willing to take the no at face value, but his pushy girlfriend, Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara), decides he needs to go talk to the family in person.
And off goes Omar, who has nothing resembling a spine. The Gund family lives on a sprawling estate with a big house and a handful of quirks. Rounding out the cast are Arden’s daughter and Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), Adam’s longtime partner. Sanada is perfectly cast, dry and warm and easily expressing Pete’s familiarity with Adam’s dramatic tendencies. Gainsbourg, as the breezy, sweet mistress, has nice, subtle chemistry with Metwally, but without her in the frame, Metwally turns stiff — and he isn’t helped by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s script (adapted from Peter Cameron’s novel). Dialogue is stilted, and the connections and clashes between characters are so obvious so early that there’s little territory to explore. Omar’s relationship is already a mess, meaning the will-he-or-won’t-he? with Arden is a given, and even he seems mostly impassionate about whether or not he’ll get to write his damn biography. Though its cast salvages some of City — which never makes enough of its setting — it’s a distant, strange film in which too little is at stake. The City of Your Final Destination () opens Friday, Oct. 1, at the Bijou.