Viewer Guide: An Officer and a Gentleman and Junebug with Richard Peña

May 30, 2018 | Richard Peña

Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.

REEL 13 CLASSIC | AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

This week’s classic is An Officer and a Gentleman, a 1982 romantic drama directed by Taylor Hackford.

In the crowning role of his early movie career, Richard Gere stars as Zack Mayo, a young, rootless man facing an uncertain future. In flashbacks, we see how Zack has endured a nomadic, solitary childhood in the custody of his father, played by Robert Loggia, a carousing Navy Petty Officer stationed in the Philippines, with an equal fondness for alcohol and the services of local prostitutes. Left on his own much of the time, the adolescent Zack also struggles to cope with his mother’s unexplained suicide.

Visiting with his Dad after graduating from college, Zack finds that nothing much has changed; and when he announces his plans to attend the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School, his father’s reaction is less than encouraging, dismissing Zack’s dream as having about as much of a chance of becoming reality as Zack becoming president. Arriving at the Naval Station with a motley assortment of other candidates, Zack’s steely determination to become a Navy pilot sets him apart, but his isolated life has left him emotionally stunted, with much to learn about what it will really take to become an officer—something that his new drill instructor, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Louis Gossett, Jr., soon makes abundantly clear to him.

David Keith also stars as Zack’s roommate and best friend, along with Debra Winger in a breakout performance as a young local woman willing to take a chance on Zack’s unpredictable future.

The sleeper hit of 1982, An Officer and a Gentleman was seen as a somewhat old-fashioned, character-driven romantic drama, yet it strongly registered with audiences, going on to become the third top-grossing film of the year after E.T. and Tootsie. The film vaulted both Richard Gere and Debra Winger to the top of Hollywood’s A-list, yet neither was the first choice for the roles. After being turned down by John Travolta, among the stars approached to play Zack were John Denver, Jeff Bridges, and Christopher Reeve. Likewise, the role of Paula was originally offered to Sigourney Weaver, Angelica Huston, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Gere was reportedly not enthusiastic about shooting the final scene where Zack strides into the factory and literally carries Paula away to the cheers of her fellow co-workers, thinking the fairytale conclusion was simply too schmaltzy to be believed. Upon screening the sequence later with theme music in place, Gere recognized an iconic movie moment had been born. And speaking of music, “Up Where We Belong,” the pop single version of the theme song performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, became a massive hit, staying #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for three weeks and ultimately certified platinum. In addition to Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Oscar-winning performance for Best Supporting Actor, An Officer And A Gentleman racked up four additional Academy Award nominations for original score, film editing, screenplay and Best Actress for Debra Winger. 

REEL 13 INDIE | JUNEBUG

Tonight’s indie is Junebug, a 2005 comedy drama directed by Phil Morrison.

In Junebug, we travel to an intersection where culture, career, and family briefly collide, before continuing on in radically divergent paths. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeleine, a Chicago art dealer specializing in outsider art. When an undiscovered North Carolina painter named David Wark pops up on Madeleine’s radar, it seems like a natural opportunity for a road trip to meet Wark in-person, as well as to visit with the North Carolina family of her new husband George, played by Alessandro Nivola.

Madeleine and George have only been together six months, so their relationship is still very new, with a lifetime of details yet to discover about each other. Try as she might to be warm and outgoing, Madeleine’s cultured, international childhood as an embassy brat makes her all the more exotic—and suspicious—especially to George’s wary mother Peg, played by Celia Weston, and his sullen younger brother Johnny, played by Ben McKenzie. Only Johnny’s pregnant wife Ashley, played in what turned out to be a breakout performance by Amy Adams, seems genuinely happy to meet Madeleine, quizzing her with a barrage of childlike questions and devouring every detail of Madeleine’s sophisticated style. But as Madeleine tries to navigate the foreign ways of her husband’s family as well as seal the deal with the eccentric artist she’s convinced will be The Next Big Thing, an unexpected chasm between duty and ambition suddenly looms before her, a distance that might wind up being too far for her to cross.

The theme of culture clash or just plain “fish out of water” runs frequently through a lot of independent cinema; it provides the engine for dramatic confrontations, as well as serves the documentary/ethnographic impulse behind so much independent work set in areas not featured frequently on screen. Junebug is an especially intelligent example of this story, one in which the film is less interested in scoring points for or against its characters than it is simply studying how they will act when facing people or situations with which they have no experience.

After an early career of Minneapolis dinner theater followed by a mixed assortment of film and television credits, Amy Adams found the role she had been waiting for with Junebug. The film made a big splash at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, going on to garner strong critical response upon its Sony Pictures Classic release in late summer of that year. Adams would receive a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Junebug, which would quickly lead to four other nominations, for Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle.

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