Um...GP? It's like they are messing with me. What am I supposed to do with that? I mean, besides Google it. Which I just did. I knew that it stood for General Patronage, but it was the equivalent of "General audiences accepted with parental guidance." So, you know. PG. There's a pretty solid sexual vibe that this movie gives, but it isn't overly vulgar or anything. I wouldn't want my kids watching this one, but that's just because it's about hippie free love and a creepy Orson Welles who gets annoyed that animals won't just disappear.
DIRECTOR: Henry Jaglom
Again, I was planning on putting some distance between Drive, He Said and this movie. I just know me. I know that there would have been a chance that I never would have gotten to the second movie on the disc and my sense of completion would have been completely stymied. This is terrible for me to say, but A Safe Place is quickly becoming one of the most forgettable movies I've ever seen. The worst part is that I know that there is merit to this movie. But I saw this movie about two weeks ago, give or take, and I'm struggling to remember details about the movie. That has to be one of the downsides of making these almost stream of consciousness movies.
There were some surprises. When the movie starts off with Orson Welles, I quickly realize that I have at least checked something off. Welles was known for being in stuff he loved and stuff he hated. He was a guy who did one for himself and then did another one to pay the bills. Sorry, Transformers: The Movie. I couldn't tell you which one this was. Knowing what I know about Welles, I'd like to think that he considered this one as part of his artistic canon. But he is the only real star in this movie. There's also a very real chance the entire budget went into giving this movie a degree of validity by simply hiring Orson Welles. It's kind of like Marlon Brando in Superman: The Movie. As I write this, I'm now kind of amazed at the similarities between Marlon Brando and Orson Welles, but I digress. I don't think many people have heard of this movie. I keep mixing up the title with A Quiet Place, which is a drastically different film. I'd like to say that this movie broke my brain opened and made my brain into a scrambled egg, but it really doesn't even come close. Even some of the BBS movies that were less than impressive at least challenged me a bit. A Safe Place really feels like the movie was made up on the fly and covered up the rough edges with the use of montage. The long and short is that this movie is a hippie version of Dharma & Greg, only it is absurd for the Greg character to be such a square all of the time. The Greg character, here named Fred and played by Phil Proctor, is attracted to Susan / Noah (yup) and they date. For the sake of time, I'm mostly going to refer to the female protagonist as Noah because most of the film does that. Just know that she adopted that name after Orson Welles gave her a Noah's ark magic trick as a child. It's a spoiler that no one really cares about. Noah is really out there. Like, there's nothing really to attach to that is real about Noah. She is aloof. She's on another planet conversation wise. Fred tries a traditional courtship, which is just silly. I suppose we're suppose to sympathize with Fred. He's head over heels for Noah, but she's the kind of girl that you ask what time she has to be home and she would probably just scream "Pumpkin!" at you for half-an-hour. The movie presents this behavior as charming. I just find it inaccessible. This also creates a weird other dynamic. We're supposed to really feel for Fred. He's trying his hardest to hold onto this girl that he just can't understand most of the time. But if you step away from that for two seconds, that means he's only really attracted to her looks and outright sexuality. That all seems kind of gross as I type on my blog in 2018. Do I want him to love a girl the way he does because he likes having sex with her? Sorry, but that's just not my bag, baby.
In the weirdest, most Monday morning quarterback sort of way, the BBS films set might be the strongest promotion for monogamy and abstinence that I've ever seen. I know that it probably wasn't the message that Jack Nicholson and company were trying to get across. I get the vibe that his cronies were all for drugs and promiscuity. But everyone who leads this lifestyle in these movies seems absolutely depressed. Head is a straight-up drug fueled nightmare for the Monkees. Easy Rider does not give the happiest ending for these guys. Five Easy Pieces is about a guy who can't form even basic relationships. A Safe Place has everyone cheating on each other and is about constant frustration. Noah just seems absolutely confused about what she wants constantly. Where is the message that things make more sense when you just let go? Perhaps it is a sense of pessimism coupled with the drug-fueled lifestyle that tells these stories, but they actually work as fantastic PSAs for me. I want to believe that writer / director Henry Jaglom has a real message to say about identity in A Safe Place. The movie is constantly cross-cutting between the present day narrative with Fred and Jack Nicholson's Mitch to the past of her as a child with Orson Welles. It also teases the horrendous relationship that Noah has had with Mitch in the past. What Jaglom does quite successfully here is present that chaotic nature that Noah must be constantly feeling. She is this woman who, upon initial meeting, seems to be controlling her life the way she wants to. But as the story unravels, she seems to be the victim of alpha male characters. These alpha males aren't necessarily good or evil. Welles's character seems to care for Noah, then called Susan. Okay, that's a hard statement to stand by because his behavior is possibly more bizarre than Noah's. But he's not the antagonist of the film and that's as close as I can get to defending my initial statement. But then there's also selfish Mitch, who uses Noah for sex when he is frustrated at home. Noah, over the course of these flashbacks, is actually revealed to be more of a leaf on the wind. (Not like Wash. That's a great leaf on the wind. Watch how he s--.) She is moved by people who are clear with their expectations, unlike Fred. Fred seems to be what refer scornfully to as "The Nice Guy." Because he's wishy-washy, he is walked all over until he just snaps and then becomes the bad guy when he vocalizes his entitlement.
What Jaglom has in A Safe Place is a framework, not a story. Many romance stories, especially ones that unite the protagonists early, become about separating them through a series of wrong turns. I know I shouldn't be citing a movie that is so polarizing with recent audiences, but La La Land shows how to do it right. This movie seems just lazy enough to depend on people watching it with the attitude of "How avant-garde!" It's really not. It is a square dating a love child and how it quickly goes south. I have to believe that Orson Welles probably filmed a lot of his scenes in one or two days, possibly improving entire sections. Again, this is entirely speculation because I watched nothing about this movie nor did I read the essays in my Criterion box yet. But Welles is a talented enough actor who understands what is compelling enough that his character as an improv exercise might be the most riveting thing about the movie itself. Fred has no reason to be in the story with Noah. Noah seems consistently apathetic about Fred's presence, which makes it difficult to gauge the situation between the protagonists. Noah doesn't care that Fred is there. She appreciates the attention, but they are in no way equals in this situation. Noah does what she wants to do and Fred just kind of orbits her world. Now, if this movie was a commentary on that, I think we would have something way ahead of its time. I never really got the feeling that Jaglom wanted to the tell the tale of obsession. Rather, Fred comes off as rather pathetic. Then Noah, too, becomes rather pathetic. I do think that Jaglom was looking at how the choices in our youth affect our present day and that kind of works in the movie. But Noah isn't a compelling enough character to sell that. Her needs are a secret. She's that leaf on the wind. Whatever way the wind takes her, she's going to go. This is the main character of the story. Again, while I take this as a PSA, I don't think that's the intention of the film. She is not a self-motivated character outside she just does what feels right to her. She's spearheading the film. Noah is most definitely the main character of the movie, not Fred. Fred may have almost equal screen time, but Noah is the one with a backstory. By the end of the movie, I know very little about Fred outside the fact that he is a milksop. I don't really understand everything about Noah, but I at least see the attempt being made to tell that story.
I think I'm burnt out on the BBS movies. I am doing this whole cycling thing between the movies and I have a whole bunch of stuff to get through before I have to finish the box set. It is also a silver lining that I have had less and less time to write these reviews. But A Safe Place honestly was a bit of a chore to me. I don't recommend it because hippie movies can be great, but a blah one might be one of the bigger wastes of time that I've had in a while.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.