See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, September 3, 1997

She's So Lovely

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 1997 at 12:00 AM

For many film historians, the current independent American cinema can be traced back to the pioneering work of one filmmaker: actor-director John Cassavetes (1929-89). From Shadows (1960) to A Woman Under the Influence (1974) to Love Streams (1984), Cassavetes specialized in raw, emotional cinema.

His camera would gaze intensely at an actor long after other directors -- and most people -- would turn away embarrassed, patiently peeling away protective layers until it pierced the heart.

The legacy of John Cassavetes gets a coda with the release of She's So Lovely, directed by Nick Cassavetes from a 20 year-old screenplay by his father. Lovely is a tale of l'amour fou featuring two characters so lovably seedy and perpetually soused, they might have sprung from a light-hearted Charles Bukowski.

Maureen Murphy Quinn (Robin Wright Penn) is scrawny, jittery, clumsy, needy, irresponsible and newly pregnant. Her violent, delusional, exceedingly charming husband, Eddie Quinn (Sean Penn, Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival), seems to be her perversely perfect mate. They bicker, fight, dance and kiss with the same devoted intensity until Eddie's increasingly irrational behavior finally lands him in a mental institution. His release, 10 years later, threatens the stable suburban life Maureen has built with Joey (John Travolta) and their children.

Sean and Robin Wright Penn, wholeheartedly embracing these screwed-up hopeless romantics, exemplify not only the virtues of a Cassavetes film, but also the vices (overindulgence, histrionics).

Surprisingly, it's John Travolta -- breaking his current cycle of cooler-than-thou roles alternated with metaphysical schmaltz -- who saves She's So Lovelyfrom being a coy actors' exercise with his straight-talking, understandably pissed-off husband. Nick Cassavetes -- who directed his mother, Gena Rowlands, in Unhook the Stars -- shows a flair for fluid (and brisk) storytelling in Lovely, whose thin charms are greatly enhanced by the gorgeous wide-screen camerawork of cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (The Fifth Element).

Obviously a labor of love, She's So Lovely still feels half-baked, like a moderately interesting two-act play whose screen adaptation only reveals how little was there in the first place.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit