by Richard von Busack
WHAT BEGINS as a mess of good actors flailing for something to do devolves into a tangle of expatriate loungers keeping their secrets. The City of Your Final Destination concerns Omar (bland Omar Metwally), an apprentice academic who travels all the way to South America under the spurring of his chilly, careerist fiancee (Alexandra Maria Lara). Omar seeks to convince the surviving relations of a one-and-done novelist to cooperate in the writing of a biography. This they are reluctant to do, figuring that the dead writer already spilled kilos of the family’s beans.
But at the Uruguayan finca where they all live, Omar finds himself drawn to the writer’s waiflike mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who (shock) shared the house with the great man’s embittered widow—and when Laura Linney plays embittered, you can hear it in Buenos Aires. Also on the premises: the novelist’s charming but unreliable elder brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), as well as Adam’s boyfriend, who has stayed with him since the boy was 15.
With Ismail Merchant gone, James Ivory directs by himself; longtime collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala scripts from the novel by Peter Cameron. I saw the 1999 adaptation of Cameron’s The Weekend and put it firmly out of my mind. Yet unbidden, I started having flashbacks to that 11-year-old film’s elegant-as-peacock-pee dialogue, little knowing that this film shared the same source author. Here also, a film of firmly struck poses and lines that must have glittered on paper—considering the kind of critical respect he gets, I would be amazed to learn whether Cameron actually does write like he’s transcribing a Bette Davis script.
Linney gets the worst of it, cracking a walnut to demonstrate her ball-busting capabilities and spelling out her angst: “painting atrocious paintings and slowly going mad,” she says of herself. Hopkins attempts to raise the film’s pulse by cat-and-mousing Omar, getting groomed and having himself spruced with a fancy cravat. The slow popping of Hopkins’ trademarked “Ah” has somehow more weight than the thudding of large symbols (lost shoes mean rootlessness; matched sets of dead parents bring two characters together; those winged symbols of industry, the bees, attacking a group of idlers). Hopkins provides the only sanctuary in this film, except for this film’s all too infrequent chit-chat-free zones.