Still Breathing (1997): Movie Review

Shikhar Jauhari

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Still Breathing: Movie Review: A gorgeous young woman, Roz (Joanna Going), is going down a dark Hollywood alley to her parked car when a guy pulls a pistol on her, and she is struck by a car at the start of Jim Robinson’s fantastic first film, “Still Breathing.” Roz, visibly terrified, uses a pay phone outside the famous Formosa Café to dial 911.

Fraser fits in perfectly as Fletcher, a San Antonian eccentric with dreamy eyes which occasionally performs as a puppeteer and street performer. When the film opens, Fletcher can’t shake the memory of a stunning woman he’s never met. Most people could find this to be somewhat terrifying. Being a McBracken, Fletcher knows this is inevitable; every man in the family before him has fantasized about the woman who would one day become his wife.

But Fletcher has a particularly unsettling vision in which his “dream girl” viciously punishes a mugger. (The latter part of this chain of events is hilarious.) Rosalyn (Going), the object of Fletcher’s subconscious love, is revealed to be a cynical L.A. con artist who earns a comfortable livelihood by scamming potential suitors out of their money through the art world.

Rosalyn first manipulates a wealthy Argentine (Paolo Seganti) into paying an absurdly inflated price for a picture she admires early on in “Still Breathing.” (The proprietor of the art gallery is complicit in the scheme.) Following that, she gets rid of the enamored guy by fabricating evidence that she is HIV positive.

Without Going’s ability to show even a hint of buried vulnerability in Rosalyn, the later development may have become excessively crass. After years of being an immoral manipulator, Rosalyn confides in her mentor Elaine (Ann Magnuson), that she is about to burn out. Nonetheless, she’s game for another sting, this time with Elaine’s promise of introducing her to a “wealthy Texan.”

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Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Fletcher has another dream in which he is told that Formosa is where he will meet his future wife. Thus, he immediately makes travel arrangements to China. On the other hand, he hears of a hip bar called Formosa during his layover in Los Angeles and chooses to check it out. Rosalyn, naturally, is waiting there for her next victim. Complications arise as a result of misunderstandings and leap to conclusions.

Rosalyn is surprised and uneasy to discover that she has developed a genuine affection for Fletcher. She even offers to go back to San Antonio with him so that he may meet his quirky relatives and friends, including his beloved Aunt Ida (Celeste Holm).

Fletcher’s revelations about his visions and Rosalyn’s discovery that he isn’t the rich she thought to put a crimp in their plans for genuine love. Yet the happy conclusion is only a few scenes away now.

Fraser succeeds in a challenging part requiring him to play the fool and the innocent simultaneously. One of the funniest scenes is Fletcher being more irritated by an L.A. smoothie’s arrogant comments about Texas. When he finally snaps, he destroys the guy with devastating insults that many viewers will favorably receive.

Robinson infuses the standard elements of a romantic comedy with a lot of heart, humor, and smart language. “Still Breathing” has heart and complexity, which are rare in Hollywood productions. Roz has lost touch with the person Fletcher and his similarly free-spirited grandma (Celeste Holm, luminous as ever) envision her to be, but this is not the point. Ida, Holm’s narrator, directly addresses Roz, speaking from personal experience to note how easy it is for a lady of Roz’s intelligence and beauty to lose hope in men.

Despite being a lovely, well-burnished movie, breathing is still not without its first-film issues. For all their intense belief in love at first sight, or rather vision, Robinson has given Fletcher and Ida enough character and depth that they don’t emerge as purely arty, ethereal types.

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However, Roz’s obsession with wealth raises questions about Fletcher and Ida’s financial stability. Ida has provided Fletcher with a modest but tastefully appointed cottage, an obviously attractive abode that belies some degree of riches. We can only assume that Fletcher and Ida have enough money, so they don’t have to worry about it.

The film’s unduly distracting haziness on money and death also gives us the impression that Fletcher’s parents are dead rather than merely absent. Yet, if you take your eyes off the screen for even a second during Robinson’s introductory sequence, you may be bewildered.

You hope that Going, who possesses genuine charisma and talent, will eventually go beyond the realm of prospective leading ladies. It appears like Fraser’s big break is just around the corner. He’s physically intimidating, and his acting range extends from George of the Jungle’s goofy antics to the confidently homosexual son in “The Twilight of the Golds,” and then on to the thoughtful romantic Fletcher. Fraser can fully immerse himself in his roles and has a great sense of humor, making him a very attractive leading man.

The film’s major flaw is Roz, an intransigent sourpuss for no apparent reason. Roz is attractive, successful, and has many potential suitors in Los Angeles, yet she wanders aimlessly in a gloom. The film never reveals what it is about her that Fletcher appreciates so much beyond her beauty and brains. The poor guy insists that he can feel the “genuine” Roz behind her annoying pout, but Ms. Going gives him very little information to work with. It’s not due to a lack of television viewing. The film provides lots of potentials for her to become a lovable character.

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The presence of Fraser helps keep the movie from being as cold as the recent “City of Angels,” to which it is often compared. His portrayal of a ’90s-style hippie who is impossibly wonderful, caring, intuitive, patient, and handsome is so easygoing and pleasant that he almost makes the dreamboat believable. Fraser has the potential to become the ’90s’ version of “Dirty DancingPatrick “‘s Swayze if he keeps accepting jobs like this. More genuine Romeos like Fletcher are needed in the Hollywood industry. The Juliets they thaw out will be wasted effort if they never become hot and bothered.

Still Breathing: Movie Info

Genre: Romance, Comedy

Still Breathing: Star Cast

  • Brendan Fraser: Fletcher McBracken
  • Joanna Going: Rosalyn Willoughby
  • Lou Rawls: The Tree Man
  • Steven Lambert: Man in Alley
  • Chao Li Chi: Formosa Bartender
  • Ann Magnuson: Elaine
  • Paolo Seganti: Tomas De Leon
  • Wendy Benson-Landes: Brigitte
  • Katie Hagan: Little Girl in Dream
  • Celeste Holm: Ida, Fletcher’s Grand Mother
  • Toby Huss: Cameron
  • Jeff Schweickert: Slammin’ Sammy
  • Bill Gundry: Man With Painting
  • Angus Macfadyen: Philip
  • Liz Mamana: Slightly Elegant Girl
  • Margaret Bush: Dress Shop Saleswoman
  • A.J. Mallett: Little Boy in Dream
  • Junior Brown: Travis Osberger, the Wrong Texan

Still Breathing: Crew

  • Director & Writer: James F. Robinson     
  • Producer: Marshall Persinger, James F. Robinson
  • Associate Producer: Cuba Craig, Amy Lippens, Julie Lynn, Michael Moody
  • Executive Producer: Joyce Schweickert
  • Co-Executive Producer: Janet Graham                   
  • Music: Paul Mills              
  • Cinematography: John Thomas 
  • Editing: Sean Albertson
  • Casting: Amy Lippens     

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Distributor: October Films

Production Company: Seattle Pacific Investments, ZapPictures Inc.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sensuality and a scene of violence.

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