An affair between a cabana boy and the young wife of a sinister politician triggers a 16-year vendetta between the two men.
When a one-line plot summary includes the words cabana boy, sinister politician, and 16-year vendetta, you just KNOW it’s going to be bad. And it IS bad. But not awesomely bad. It’s just run-of-the-mill terrible, complete with bad acting, wavering accents, fake-o scar makeup, and the worst of ’70s and ’80s fashions. Joseph Fiennes plays not only the cabana boy, Alan, but also the Cubano boy Manuel Esquema; Gretchen Mol plays the young wife, Ella; and Ray Liotta plays the sinister politician, Mark.
At first, scanning through the credits, listing Catherine Hayos as Librarian, I was thinking the librarian would flash by in a short scene 2/3 through the film. In one respect, I was right — about the timing. That’s about when a library is first mentioned. However, that’s when we find out that Ella — one of the main characters! — has been volunteering at the library. At this point, I had to stop the movie, because (a) it was so terrible, and (b) I had to gear up for paying more attention to Ella and considering the entire movie in her role. Sigh. This is another of those times that I watch bad movies so you don’t have to.
So how do we find out Ella works at the library? Alan/Manuel comes back years later to Ella and Mark’s house — without either of them recognizing him or wondering about the fake-makeup scar running down his face — and their conversation turns to her work. (It’s already been mentioned that she has no children; is her volunteer work considered a substitute?). Here’s a bit of their after-dinner conversation:
Mark: She has her home, her work.
Alan/Manuel: I didn’t know you worked.
Ella: Well, in a manner of speaking.
Mark: She reads.
Ella: I work for the Westchester Library System. It’s volunteer work. Mostly paperwork, and I read for the elderly. It started when Mark was a councilman. I liked it, so I kept doing it.
We also learn that Ella is rereading Madame Bovary (!) to senior citizens, and almost an hour and a half into the film, we are treated (?!) to a scene of this.
What an odd choice, Madame Bovary, but director Paul Schrader is none-too-subtle on the correlation of the novel’s plotline with this movie’s story:
Remembering the ball became an occupation for her. Every Wednesday morning she said to herself as she woke, Ah, a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I was there! And little by little, the faces became confused in her memory. [...] Some of the details vanished, but her longing remained.
The scene then cuts to an outside shot of a library, with red brick and high arched glass. Inside at the Circulation counter, Ella gathers books and places them on a cart behind the desk (see below).
Another female librarian — no doubt the Librarian listed in the credits and your basic Information Provider — is also there, as well as another unidentified female shelving in the back shelves.
Librarian: You better hurry if you’re going to the city with your husband. [grabs a big stack of books]
Ella: Oh, I decided not to. Mark’s all right on his own. Besides, I’ve got to catch up on my paperwork.
You can bet this is NOT going to end well.
And in the end, Ella’s dabbling into librarianship doesn’t mean much to the film, landing it into the Class II category of films. Her (non)occupation is simply a means to an end, in an attempt to demonstrate some kind of depth to her character (too little, too late). Also, the library provides another set piece to the film. But her character’s motivation — she was a bored housewife who dabbled in different charities and classes — actually ends up pretty condescending to real librarians. I think Paul Schrader, also the film’s screenwriter, was trying to provide some kind of arc for Ella, as a woman who finds herself within all the melodrama, so in that sense, she does (marginally) fulfill the Liberated Librarian character type. But it’s all surface, as slight as the rest of this less-than-mediocre film.
If you can bear it, here’s a trailer for Forever Mine: