1988 / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #321: The Accidental Tourist (1988)

We finally reach the end of our William Hurt marathon with The Accidental Tourist in which he plays a fairly withdrawn character. The character in question is travel writer Macon Leary, an emotionless man who wrote the titular series of books aimed at businessman who didn’t particularly want to travel.

When we meet him, he’s recently suffered an emotional tragedy as his son has recently died when he was caught in the crossfire during a hold-up at a burger restaurant. Shortly after the event his wife Sarah moves out of their home and he’s forced to live alone in their house with only his temperamental dog for company. It’s due to his dog that he meets the incredibly lively Muriel Pritchett, who works at the local kennels and is an expert dog trainer. After learning that they’re both divorcees Muriel tries to coax Macon into the world of the living and eventually convinces him to train his dog. At the same time Macon is forced to move back into the house he grew up and live with his quirky siblings, all of whom are in a permanent state of arrested development. Eventually Macon and Muriel start a relationship with Macon also bonding with her son Alexander, a sickly boy who is allergic to everything after being born prematurely. Muriel helps Macon come out of himself and gradually he learns to live a lot more than he ever has done. But events start to become complicated once again when he reunites with Sarah at his sister’s wedding. He’s then torn over whether to reconcile with Sarah or continue to stay with the woman who brings out the best in him.

The Accidental Tourist sees Hurt reunite with Lawrence Kasdan, who we previously saw direct him in The Big Chill. Unfortunately I found myself enjoying this a lot less than I did the college reunion comedy drama and I felt that Kasdan didn’t employ the same amount of discipline that he did with The Big Chill. It may have something to do with the fact that The Accidental Tourist is an adaptation of the book by Anne Tyler, but I found it to have some large narrative flaws. For example I wasn’t a fan of the way Muriel initially pursued Macon and instead felt that their relationship could’ve grown a lot more organically. Similarly I didn’t like the fact that Sarah just presumed that Macon would return to her or that he ditched Muriel so quickly. The fact that both Macon and Sarah were primarily so withdrawn made it hard to warm to their characters and at times I found them both unlikeable. Equally I thought Muriel was a little overbearing and at times was too kooky for me to find her at all realistic. The parts of the film I enjoyed the most were those involving Macon’s siblings and his sister Rose’s romance with his publisher Julian. Of all the characters I thought the Leary siblings were the most endearing and Rose in particular was a joy to watch. In addition, I felt that the exerts from Macon’s Accidental Tourist guide books were inventive and provided a little dry humour that was sorely needed. Despite not enjoying her character, I felt that Geena Davis delivered the best performance and I wasn’t surprised to learn that she took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Hurt did what was required of him and I thought he did well to play a character with very little personality. Ultimately, The Accidental Tourist was a film I found off-putting due to its lack of realistic characters and I felt that Hurt’s performance was the weakest of the five I’ve seen. Though I’ve enjoyed following his career throughout the 1980s I’m looking forward to watch a film that doesn’t feature him in a lead role.


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