Monday, May 2, 2011

Lady in White

 There is a lot of affection in the blogosphere for Lady in White.  The film, made in 1988 and seen by everyone except for me, tells the story of Frankie Scarlatti (played by Lukas Haas), a young boy growing up in the early sixties.  Frankie lives a pretty idyllic life, with a loving father and older brother, and two eccentric Italian grandparents to provide comic relief.  Of course, his mother is dead, but that is pretty typical for a film such as this.  One afternoon, on Halloween, Frankie is locked in the cloakroom of his school by a couple of bullies (now a days they would just trash him on Facebook.)  Frankie falls asleep and when he wakes he is greeted by the ghost of a little singing "Did you ever see a dream?" by Bing Crosby.  The girl sees him as well, but before they can communicate Frankie witnesses her being BRUTALLY MURDERED in front of his eyes.  If that isn't enough to ruin your day he then is attacked by the REAL KILLER, who just happens to return to the cloakroom to retrieve an item he may have lost during the murder years ago.  Frankie isn't killed, but he is injured, and the drunk black janitor is accused of the crime.  Frankie doesn't know who attacked him, and this being 1962 the cops throw the janitor in prison and throw away the key.

Up until the cloakroom scene Lady in White reminded me of films such as A Christmas Story.  It seemed like a nostalgic look back on childhood, a time when everything was simple and magic.  What this film is really trying to emulate is To Kill a Mockingbird.  Yes, everything is simple and magic but then something really shitty happens and you have to grow up fast.  The child murder (albeit of a ghost child but still shocking) really jolted me.  The problem is, the tone of the film does not change after this horrific event.  I mean, the brother and grandparents are still providing comic relief, the father is still too strangely affectionate and caring, and Frankie still looks and acts like a moron.  Although now he is a moron being visited by a ghost.  The ghost, the first victim of a serial child killer, asks Frankie to help find her "mom."  Turns out Mom killed herself after the serial killer got to her a child. I am so confused by this movie.

Who is dead?  Who is alive?  Who cares!  By the time Katherine Helmond showed up as a "Lady in White" I had pretty much checked out.  It was pretty easy to figure out who the killer was, but honestly I was hoping half the time it would turn out to be Frankie's Dad.  It wouldn't surprise me with this movie.  The Director, Frank LaLoggia, throws so much at the screen (including an overbearing soundtrack composed by.....Frank LaLoggia) that nothing seems to stick.  The film aspires to greatness.  It looks great and the performances are well done (even Haas, who I have always had a problem with much like my problem with Shia LaBeouf).  It is trying to say something about racism and I guess child abuse, but it mixes this all up with jokes about masturbation and other shenanigans that come straight out of The Wonder Years.  Oh yeah, and there are ghosts. 

I missed this film when I was a kid and perhaps if I had seen it then I would have a different reaction to it now.  Not every film we see and love as a kid is that great.  I mean, I must of watched Night of the Comet 50 times as a kid.  I couldn't even sit though it now.  I had no clue what Lady in White was about except for the ghost aspect.  I think I had it in my mind that it was a scary ghost story.  Instead, it looks like it was made for kids (except for the child murdering).

I think the Netflix gods were trying to tell me something.  This movie sat on my table for 2 months.  They were saying "you are not going to like this movie even though everyone else does..."  They were right!


Will Errickson said...

I agree--this film just *does not work*. At all. Don't know why it gets so much love in cult circles; that was certainly why I watched it a couples years ago. Man, was my girlfriend pissed at me when it was over! Ugh.

Jen said...

Thank you! I was kind of worried because people love this film and I was wondering if I was just being a cranky old bitch!