Directed by Jon Amiel
Written by William Boyd, from the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa
Starring Peter Falk, Keanu Reeves, Barbara Hershey
I never understood why so many people hated Keanu Reeves. I saw him as a perfectly good actor, who took challenging roles. He was not one who emoted, but I always like that: good acting does not require histrionics or strong emotions. But he raised a great amount of scorn. Eventually, I discovered the reason: few people had seen him in his best roles, since they were in small, indy films as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters. And one of these was Tune in Tomorrow....
It's based upon the novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa.* Naturally, it lost a lot in translation; its setting was moved to New Orleans, it was played in a more comic vein, and some of the social elements had to be changed.**
Martin Loader (Keanu Reeves) works at a small early 50s radio station that broadcasts soap operas. They bring on the brilliant but insane scriptwriter Pedro Carmichael (Peter Falk) to write for them. At the same time, Martin's Aunt Julia*** (Barbara Hershey) comes to town. She and Martin start a love affair, which Carmichael sees as raw material. Soon their affair -- including dialog show up on the air in the midst of a strange soap opera world.
Reeves is quite good as the bewildered Martin, who admires what Carmichael is creating, even though it's an invasion of his life.
But it is Falk's film. I had taken a liking to him as Maxwell Meen, the sidekick in The Great Race, and Colombo, plus movies like Murder by Death, The Cheap Detective, The Brinks Job, and The Princess Bride cemented my opinion. He was incapable of giving a poor performance and his Carmichael is a memorable and very funny character. I was also a fan of Barbara Hershey for her work in The Stunt Man.***
One nice touch was the decision to dramatize the radio plays. Instead of just listening to the show, you saw actors performing it, as though they were on TV, but with some strange variations. Reality and fantasy mixed, and actors Peter Gallagher, Dan Hedaya, John Larroquette, Hope Lange, Buck Henry, Henry Gibson, and Elizabeth McGovern played the roles in what were basically extended cameos.
Like many of Reeve's best films, this did poorly at the box office despite good reviews, but didn't hurt anyone's careers. Jon Amiel (who directed The Singing Detective, is still going strong, too.
The result is a very odd comedy that, while complex, is amply rewarding.
*I had read the novel previously, looking for other South American authors after reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude.
**One thing that didn't quite work was the change of nationality. In the book, the scriptwriter snuck in outrageous ethnic jokes about Bolivians, which probably made some sense in Peru. When it was changed to the US, the ethnic group became Albanians, which didn't work the same.
****Come to think of it, this has similar themes as that film -- a mad artist who uses people as he creates his art.