Clarkson is extraordinary in 'Cairo Time'

Patricia Clarkson, too often relegated to supporting roles in past films, finally takes center stage from the first frame in "Cairo Time" to the last; the camera never leaves her side. She is a remarkable actress with an enormous range, possessing a soft yet steely voice that always has a hint of magnolia. Her performance as Juliette, wife of a U.N. official, newly arrived in Cairo to vacation with her husband, is filed with extraordinary moments.

Upon arriving in Cairo, she is met at the airport by her husband's colleagues, Tareq, played elegantly by Alexander Siddig. He informs her that her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus), will be delayed in Gaza, for how long he's not sure. He offers to be her tour guide while she waits for him.

And so the couple set out to see the city, and writer-director Ruba Nadda and cinematographer Luc Montpellier set about creating a love letter to Cairo — an exotic, teeming metropolis of great contrasts and beauty with the pyramids ever in the distance. And while Juliette begins to find Cairo irresistible, she also finds Tareq equally magnetic. Their chemistry is palpable as they sit in coffeehouses, walk through marketplaces and warren-like streets.

There is no doubt that Juliette loves her husband. In one initial phone conversation, their bond is evident and her worry for his welfare evident. And yet, here she is, 50, an accomplished journalist and magazine editor, two children grown and gone, feeling melancholy and a bit taken aback by her emotions. Clarkson captures her emotions with subtlety and grace and with, above all, restraint. And actually restraint is an essential aspect to this film as Tareq and Juliette walk toward a precipice from which there will be no turning back.

In effect, Juliette is on a journey, not unlike that of Elizabeth Gilbert in the "Eat Pray Love." But the two films couldn't be more different. Both are about women at a turning point in their lives; and yet there is something far more honest about Clarkson's performance and character than that of Julia Roberts. For Juliette, all is resolved and yet nothing is resolved, and the ambiguity and lack of clarity and ultimate compromise, inherent in so much of life, is evident, right up until the final scene.


"Flipped" is set in white suburbia and spans those now-iconic years beginning in the late '50s and ending in the early '60s. For filmmakers doing a period recreation, well, the cars have fins, millions are moving to the suburbs, and the music is a cresting wave of rock and roll featuring those memorable, signature songs that filled countless gyms during Friday night sock hops.

If you grew up during that time, it's tempting to believe that no generation before or since experienced anything quite like it. It was a gestalt of culture and change. The soundtrack to that period was Elvis and Buddy, Bill Haley and the Comets, Chubby Checker and the Big Bopper, all leading the way followed by a long line of groups and stand-alone singers. Politically, it was the Cold War, the ever-present scimitar of nuclear weapons, and it's not a stretch to say that if there was a moment when it all ended, it would be in early November of 1963.

One of the best films that captured the essence of the late '50s and early '60s was George Lucas' "American Graffiti," followed by Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me." Both films were remarkable in that they told compelling stories and were filled with magic.

Because Reiner demonstrated such a deft touch with "Stand by Me," seeming to understand reflexively that universal transition called coming of age, the expectation was that he would bring the same authentic insight to "Flipped," the story adapted from the contemporary teen novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, hugely popular in 2001 (Reiner made the decision to set it in the early '60s).

Though the film has a certain sweetness (never saccharine), it also misses too many opportunities to explore the real pain of growing up.

"Flipped" begins with Juli (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce (Callan McAuliffe), both second-graders, who meet when Bryce moves into the neighborhood. Juli is immediately smitten (flipped). Bryce is repelled, her being a girl and all. The story soon focuses on how they navigate middle school and Bryce drolly points out that he has spent half a decade avoiding Juli, intimidated by her expressions of affection. She has spent that time resolutely reaching out and being rebuffed. But all of that is about to be upended, meaning flipped.

Though there is a nice contrast between the families — Bryce's is upwardly mobile and somewhat affluent, and Julie's is working class and outwardly poor — not enough is made of these differences and how they affect the two budding adolescents.

There's joy and pain in this story, but Reiner holds back on both counts. He seems content to settle for "nice." That isn't the adjective that comes to mind when thinking of "Stand by Me." There are truths in this movie and, surprisingly, Reiner, who co-wrote the screenplay, doesn't explore them. Or does so in a glancing way that disappoints.

To be fair, adolescence is a difficult period to really nail. It's easily caricatured, and writers too often create screenplays that are vacuous, having forgotten what it means to be a teen or tween on the verge. But that also means that it's a period of such immense change and conflict that good writers should be able to mine its nuances endlessly. If they have insight and courage.

One nugget in "Flipped" is John Mahoney, one of the finest character actors working today. He portrays Bryce's grandfather; it's a role that demonstrates the breadth and depth of Mahoney's talent. He is remembered for his durable role as Fraser's father in the television serial comedy, "Fraser." He has also appeared in supporting roles over the years, his work seamless and always remarkable. His presence in "Flipped" is worth the price of admission.

Having said all that, if you have a tween sitting on the sofa, already worried that since school has started, well, all the really cool movies are long gone, well grab said grumpy gremlin and go see "Flipped." It is a sweet movie. And rated PG. But don't tell the gremlin.

Share This Story