New Line // 2002 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 24th, 2003
The Gift From Above
You receive a DVD screener in the mail, and it's one of those plain discs than come without the official studio packaging. All it says is "Unconditional Love," Region 1. As a man, the title strikes fear into your heart, for it could be one of those estrogen-laced chick flicks. Putting it into your player, the menu comes up and its theme is hearts, with a pink background, naturally. Running away in fear, you scramble over to IMDb and hope that it isn't as bad as it looks -- but it's worse because the running time is two hours! But then you read the summary, and it's truly the most utterly preposterous idea for a movie you've ever seen. Maybe there's hope for it after all.
Grace Beasley (Kathy Bates, About Schmidt, The Waterboy, Misery) is the contented wife of Max (Dan Aykroyd, Crossroads, Pearl Harbor, Blues Brothers). After 25 years, she believes that her marriage is on solid ground. More importantly, though, Grace is one of the biggest fans of Victor Fox (Jonathan Pryce, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrow Never Dies), international adult-contemporary singing sensation.
Following her usual routine, Grace is watching the morning television shows and Victor is a guest. It turns out that he's in town filming an upcoming Christmas special. To celebrate, the station is giving away five front row seats to the first five callers. She calls in and gets through, but at that moment, Max comes to her saying they need to have a talk about their marriage. Max is very unhappy with the stale, dull, boring, routine life and wife; he feels they've played it too safe and he needs a little danger in his life. Believing Grace is incapable of change, he wants a divorce. Grace is stunned, causing her to hang up and not win her ticket to Victor's performance.
With the help of her stepdaughter Maudey (Meredith Eaton, Family Law), Grace quickly realizes that she needs to begin to make changes in her life. Her first step is to plead to the television station to get that ticket she won. Amazingly, she gets the ticket and a chance to see Victor up close.
But tragedy strikes as Chicago's "crossbow murderer" kills Victor. The world is in mourning over the loss of this immense talent.
With sadness and determination in her heart, Grace sets out for England to attend Victor's funeral -- though without her family's approval. Once there, Grace runs into a string of lucky fortune and ends up meeting Victor's bereaved family. Moreover, she soon learns that Victor has been keeping a big secret: he was gay. Dirk Simpson (Rupert Everett, The Next Best Thing, Inspector Gadget, My Best Friend's Wedding) was Victor's lover, but Victor's family will not acknowledge the relationship and are doing everything in their power to make him go away. But when Grace shows up, she's able to gain his confidence and become a friend. They are lost souls who have found solace with one another. They gain strength from each other and work to heal the wounds left by Victor's untimely death.
But Dirk is having trouble attaining full closure, and he asks to return to Chicago with Grace. He wants to avenge Victor and hunt down the crossbow killer. In their perilous hunt, they will come to terms with who they are and what their lives hold for them.
Unconditional Love is the best representation of "quirky, dark comedy" I've seen. From the opening number of Jonathan Pryce singing "Hitchcock Railway" (I have no idea about the title) through the closing number of "(You Know I) Can't Smile Without You," the film will keep you off balance with its irreverent tale of love, loss, and discovery. I was expecting the worst, but I walked away having greatly enjoyed this odd little film.
This is not a chick flick. Yes, it does have many chick ingredients (gay men, singing, "love, loss, and discovery"), but the film is infused with so much dark humor that it transcends that feared niche and ends up being appealing to both sexes. I'd love to tell you about a few of the ridiculous scenes, but on the off chance you'll actually heed my closing statement, I want you to be able to fully enjoy the film...fine, you've convinced me; you need a little proof to support my assertion:
At Victor Fox's funeral, friends, family, and reporters are gathered to pay their final respects. Unbeknownst to everyone there, Grace and Dirk secretly changed Victor's funeral attire from a boring beige suit to something more in tune with his flamboyant persona: a fluffy pink robe and tiara. When the coffin is opened, Victor's family is stunned. To try and keep the press from seeing Victor in such garb, one of the sisters, Nola (Lynn Redgrave Gods and Monsters, Shine), quickly runs up and throws her body on top of his corpse. The press mobs forward, taking pictures and video; chaos ensues! But luckily Julie Andrews (yes, that Julie Andrews) is there, and she quickly scrambles up to the podium and begins singing "Getting to Know You" in hopes of restoring some semblance of decorum to the occasion.
Trust me, it may not sound that great, but if you watch it, you'll agree that it's hilarious and utterly preposterous (yes, this film does warrant two "utterly presposteri" in one review)! I loved it. There are many other comparable scenes that you won't believe you're seeing.
What really boosts this movie is the fantastic acting from this ensemble cast. Everyone turns in a terrific performance, bringing to life his or her character. And character is the right term, for everyone is just slightly off balance, further bolstering the quirkiness of the film. Kathy Bates changes from dull housewife to serial killer hunter. Rupert Everett transforms from bitter queen to caring friend. And Jonathan Pryce...well, how do you describe him? We'll just let you see and experience that one for yourself.
Unconditional Love, shamefully, did not get much of a release in the United States. But, fortunately, New Line does repair some of the damage by releasing this disc with sparkling transfers. The anamorphic widescreen video is top of the line without a flaw in sight. It is spotless with fantastic colors, cavernous blacks, and beautiful contrast and detail. This realistic video is just about reference quality. On the audio side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is very, very good with crisp, clear dialogue and excellent use of the other channels. Though practically cliché to say, this movie's audio track is far better than you'd expect. You will be impressed with the transfers.
The disc is almost bare bones except for two small items: a two-minute deleted scene and the theatrical trailer.
The only downfall of this movie is that it is a touch slow at times. It's not the most briskly paced film out there, and I'll admit I did glance at my watch once or twice. But, that was only during the second half of the first hour. Once the ball gets rolling between Grace and Dirk in England, the time will simply fly by.
If you like your comedy dark, twisted, bizarre, and unpredictable, then give Unconditional Love a chance. I'm confident you'll like it. Though I know the title will scare you, don't be deterred. Go out and give this one a rental. I'm not sure it's quite worthy of a purchase, but a rental will definitely give you an evening's worth of fun and conversation.
Unconditional Love is hereby acquitted of all charges. This wonderfully eccentric film will delight you and make you laugh heartily.
Review content copyright © 2003 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scene
* Theatrical Trailer