Strapless Review

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Dr. Lillian Hempel (Blair Brown), a woman with everything in life but a man, finds one on holiday (Ganz) who seems - he lavishes horses, cars and other goodies on her - too good to be true. He is, of course, and Strapless charts their downward spiral of a relationship.


Following on from Wetherby and Paris By Night, playwright and director David Hare's third feature film — a sort of The Man Who Loved Women meets The National Health — is an unsatisfactory mixture of love story and attempted social comment.

On holiday in Portugal, 40-ish ex-pat American doctor Lillian (Brown) is approached by a mysterious and romantically inclined man (Ganz), who courts her with the kind of calm, winning confidence that belongs in a New Year's Eve drinks commercial. It isn't quite an affair, but back in London Lillian is surprised and intrigued to receive from him first a horse and then a car, and their relationship consequently grows. However, one marriage later this man of extravagant gestures turns out to be a less than straightforward character. Massive gambling debts, bigamy and a propensity to disappear unexpectedly make for a husband who quickly becomes both an emotional and an economic liability.

While Lillian carries on with her suave lover, much emphasis is also placed upon the young man in her hospital ward dying of cancer, which is somehow supposed to put the affair into some kind of context. Then there's the carefree lifestyle of her much younger fashion designer sister (Fonda), who messes up the flat they share and willingly takes on a pregnancy while displaying none of the maturity required either for parenting or living with others.

The interaction of love in the extravagant style and the grim routines of hospital is a promising idea, but in practice it simply doesn't hang together. Similarly, the concept of Lillian being symbolically "strapless" - having to fend for herself without any emotional support from others — ends up being hitched in the clumsiest of ways to a hospital charity fashion show which implies that off-the-shoulder gowns could be the health workers' secret weapon in the fight against the government.

Sometimes interesting, but not particularly efficacious, Hare's medicinal compound is perhaps best avoided.