I’ve always been a fan of Tatum O’Neal’s. We’re about the same age and, like everyone else, I was amazed by her first (Oscar winning) performance in Paper Moon, which is as close to a perfect film as any of us are likely to see. She still holds the record for being the youngest Oscar winner, after which she had a better run than most young actors.
I read her autobiography, in which O’Neal says her famous (and famously difficult) father, Ryan, was highly competitive with her, and that she was sexually abused by his drug dealer before she reached her teens. She was a staple in the gossip columns and movie magazines for her friendship with Michael Jackson before she married and had children with volatile tennis player John McEnroe. Long before Drew Barrymore did it, she grew up surrounded by Hollywood excess, struggled mightily, and wound up a better person for it. She entered recovery, and came through it all possessing both an edge and a sweetness about her that reminds me at times of Terri Garr. Outside of playing Cheri Currie’s ineffectual mom in The Runaways, O’Neal has kept a low profile in film. She had a seven-year run as an A.A. meeting facilitator on TV’s Rescue Me, and played the wicked lead in the series Wicked Wicked Games for two seasons.
So, I was curious to see Sweet Lorraine, in which O’Neal plays the title character, Lorraine Beebie. Lorraine’s involved with Steven Bauer’s Lou Bava, a “rough around the edges “mayoral candidate whose son is seen strong-arming an altar boy into handing over the proceeds of the collection plates. The altar boy is the son of his political running mate, Reverend Freeman Beebie, and the stepson of O’Neal’s character.
For this role, Bauer’s 30 pounds heavier than his character in Ray Donovan–and approximately 130 I.Q. Points lighter. His dialogue has almost as many “Ay’s” as Rocky Balboa, and the company he keeps contains almost as many thugs. He’s not only diddling Mrs. Beebie, but her teenage stepdaughter as well. Between Bava and his son, they’re pounding three-quarters of the family. Julianne Michelle of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Awakened (in which she again appears opposite Steven Bauer) delivers very convincing as an overly sexualized teen.
It’d be easy to take cheap shots at Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, who’s billed as Jimmy Walker in the credits, and is pictured on the poster. But, like Ike and Tina Turner: “I never, ever, do nothin’ nice and easy.” Walker does a good job as nightclub host Rudy Ray who’s a mix between Screamin’ Jay Hawkins & Dave Chapelle’s Reggie Warrington; “The Cat In The Hat,” from The Nutty Professor.
Tatum’s Mrs. Beebie drops in to visit her old friends at the nightclub and winds up in a boxing ring in an evening dress, knocking the crap out of a well-dressed transvestite, & visiting with Steven Bauer’s political opponent who’s also dressed in drag. There’s obviously history between them & he mentions that without him, Tatum’s character wouldn’t have ever met that minister, or that politician.
Her character always wanted to be a boxer, & the film’s best moments are when O’Neal’s pugilist gives one of Bauer’s thugs a knockout combination, & then beats Bauer into submission–from the mayoral race! She gives his wife a beat-down as well, that almost turns into going down on her. A little more dark humor, & Sweet Lorraine might have had the tone of a David Lynch film. A little more girl-on-girl action between Tatum & her boyfriend’s wife & it might have been a Zalman King film. As it is, it lands somewhere in between.
It’s no surprise that the stand-out performance is Peter Greene’s, Pulp Fiction’s racist rapist Zed of “Zed’s dead, Baby” fame. He’s running Bauer’s political campaign (sans a Gimp to hand out campaign buttons). Greene completely embodies the sleazy bartender with artistic illusions who produces campaign ads for Bauer’s character, and almost winds up dead in a suitcase for his troubles. Isn’t that the nature of showbiz? “Don’t get all artsy on us, or you’re through–if you’re lucky.”