The Simian Line (2000)


USA. 2000.


Director – Linda Yellen, Screenplay – Gisela Bernice, Story – Michael Leeds & Linda Yellen, Producers – Robert Renfield & Linda Yellen, Photography – David Bridges, Music – Patrick Seymour, Special Effects – Alter Images INC, NYC (Supervisor – George Tsakas), Production Design – Henry Dunn. Production Company – Libra Pictures/S.L. Productions/Da Wa Movies/The Simian Line LLC


Lynn Redgrave (Katharine Ramsey), Harry Connick Jr. (Rick), Cindy Crawford (Sandra), Monica Keena (Marta Wells), Dylan Bruno (Billy), Samantha Mathis (May Mills), Tyne Daly (Arnita), William Hurt (Edward), Jamey Sheridan (Paul), Eric Stoltz (Sam Donovan), Jeremy Zwlig/Zelig (Jimmy)


Katharine Ramsey, a middle-aged realtor living in Weehawken, New Jersey, invites a group of people to dinner. Her guests include her much younger lover Rick; her tenants Billy and Marta, a young couple in their twenties trying to make it in a rock band; and her neighbours, the businessman Paul and his wife Sandra. For a joke, Rick has also invited along the psychic Arnita. When the others start laughing at Arnita, she becomes upset and leaves, not before making a prediction that one of the couples will have split up before New Year’s Eve. Afterwards, each of the couples worries about the prophecy. This causes tensions in their respective relationships to come to the fore – Katharine thinks that Rick is having an affair with the younger and more beautiful Sandra after they start spending time together, while ructions occur in Marta and Billy’s relationship after she is granted custody of the child that she never told him about. At the same time, Edward, the ghost of a Southern gentleman who lives in Katharine’s house, is joined by May, the ghost of a brothel keeper, who has been forced to relocate as Sandra makes renovations next door.

This obscure film is a work from Linda Yellen. Yellen is best known as a tv producer, where she has been responsible for various true life tv movie biopics such as Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure (1979), The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982) and Liberace: Behind the Music (1988). Yellen has made several tv movies as director, including the moderately acclaimed Chantilly Lace (1993), as well as Parallel Lives (1994), End of Summer (1996), Northern Lights (1997) and The Last Film Festival (2015).

One of the distinctive features of Linda Yellen’s directorial work has been her style where she encourages her cast to improvise the story from out of the dramatic conflicts between their characters. (The Simian Line was actually workshopped at Sundance). Here Yellen has a cast on hand that includes some impressive acting names – Lynn Redgrave, William Hurt, Samantha Mathis, Eric Stoltz and the greatly underrated Tyne Daly – and some intriguingly offbeat ones – crooner Harry Connick Jr and model Cindy Crawford. She certainly gets some good performances out of her those assembled, notably from Lynn Redgrave, Harry Connick, Samantha Mathis and in particular Tyne Daly as a flaky New Age spiritualist. On the minus side, William Hurt tends to his characteristically dour and dull self, even when playing a Southern gentleman.

The Simian Line‘s main failing is exactly Linda Yellen’s style – that she is more concentrated on the characters driving the film than she ever is on the story. The plot fairly much only consists of much cross-cutting back and forward between the characters. In other Magical Realist dramas – one might compare The Simian Line to The Butcher’s Wife (1991), for instance – there is either a colourful hyper-real romanticism and a series of over-the-top twists of fate driving things or else a heartfelt sentiment. The Simian Line lacks either – it is far too laidback for its own good. The eventual revelation of the psychic’s prophecy is also a major cheat. Certainly, Linda Yellen does engender a modest degree of emotion as she plays the various dramas off. There is one amusing scene with the two kids trying to rehearse young Jeremy Zelig (or Jeremy Zwlig as the end credits have him) to say things for visiting social worker Eric Stoltz.

The film does take its New Age flakiness a little too seriously – the title The Simian Line is taken from palmistry, while the film even has a credited astrological consultant.

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