: : : White Palace

Story

Glenn Savan's depressing and self-loathing novel about a 27-year-old upper-class Jewish widower mired in self-pity after his beloved wife dies, and who finds love and sexual rebirth with a trailer-trash older woman, was brought to the big screen by the competent director Luis Mandoki (When a Man Loves a Woman, Message in a Bottle). But the savage irony in Savan's book has been face-lifted by screenwriters Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People) into something else entirely: what passes for low-rent "slumming" in Hollywood means hiring sexy Susan Sarandon to play Nora Baker, the poor, uneducated 43-year-old waitress in a White Palace burger joint who strikes up an unlikely relationship with sad Max Baron (James Spader). Widower Max attends a bachelor party for best pal Neil (Jason Alexander) and discovers that the local White Palace has stiffed the boys a whopping six burgers. Max barges into the joint, bent on getting his money back, and meets a testy Nora, who is bemused at the young man's insolence. While driving home, Max stops abruptly at a bar for a drink. Inside, Nora is nursing a vodka and takes a shine to the tuxedo-clad, handsome, and morose younger man. He gives her a lift, she seduces him, and the rest of the movie examines how two such opposites in manners and morals can find happiness. The only common bond they have is great sex and a private tragedy. White Palace nudges at the dark journey and the smashing of illusion that was at the heart of the novel, but there is still a fairy-tale element to the film that negates the earthy essence that distinguished the book. In Mandoki's vision, White Palace is about overcoming class, family, and outside opinion to find true love. In Savan's book, Max wastes into decline while Nora ultimately thrives in the quest for truth, redemption, and self-forgiveness. She becomes his salvation only after he stops hating himself. But mainstream Hollywood shuns making "protagonists" so mad, bad, or sad, and as such, too much glitter is tossed on Spader, while Sarandon, as usual, is the only one who seems to embody and understand her character's angst. She deserved her Oscar for Nora, not the nun in Dead Man Walking. --Paula Nechak

Cast

Susan SarandonNora Baker
James SpaderMax Baron
Jason AlexanderNeil
Kathy BatesRosemary
Eileen BrennanJudy
Steven HillSol Horowitz
Corey ParkerLarry Klugman
Renée TaylorEdith Baron
Jonathan PennerMarv Miller
Jeremy PivenKahn

  • Genre: Drama Movies
  • Director: Luis Mandoki
  • Producer: Goodtimes
  • Length: 103 mins
  • Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
  • Theatrical Release
    North AmericaOct 19, 1990
  • Ratings
    North AmericaR
    Europe15
    AustraliaM
  • DVD Release
    North AmericaMar 2, 1999
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