This is a story about life and the many facets of love, dreams and aspirations, and the journey of discovery we all have to make in our own way in our own time. But the single thread that runs through the film and ties the characters and their lives together is sorrow; and in this instance, using an extremely overt metaphor, `Sorrow' is the family pet-- a dog-- who comes to symbolize a seemingly prevalent condition of the Berry family in `The Hotel New Hampshire,' written for the screen and directed by Tony Richardson, adapted from the novel by John Irving. The story centers on the Berry family, a close but eccentric clan, and is told from the perspective of John (Rob Lowe), who tries to make sense of his too familiar relationship with his sister, Frannie (Jodie Foster), his gay older brother, Frank (Paul McCrane), his literally `little' sister, Lilly (Jennifer Dundas) who `isn't a midget,' but who stopped growing too soon, the youngest of the bunch, Egg (Seth Green), his grandfather, Iowa Bob (Wilford Brimley) and his parents (Beau Bridges and Lisa Banes).
John's father, Win, was a dreamer, or as Lilly called him, a `Gatsby,' always looking for something better, for `it.' Win and Mother Berry had met one summer working together at a hotel, and when Win tires of his job as a school teacher, he decides their town needs a hotel. So he buys an abandoned building that suits his needs perfectly, and transforms it into a hotel, the Hotel New Hampshire, owned and operated by the entire Berry family. And it is here that the memories of his formative years are made for John; memories like struggling with his love for his sister while she lives through a particularly traumatic experience that involves a boy of whom she is enamored, Chip Dove (Matthew Modine), and tasting love himself for the first time with a waitress at the hotel (Joely Richardson). It is also at this time that he experiences a death in the family for the first time. And, as it is in life, it won't be the last; nor will it be his final encounter with tragedy and sorrow.
In this film, Richardson touches upon a number of themes that at one time (and not that long ago) would have been considered taboo in a film: Homosexuality, incest and interracial relationships. And he does it successfully by weaving them into the story naturally and objectively, without expounding upon or exploring them simply to enhance the drama. This is simply the story of the Berry family, for better or worse, with John telling it like it is while refraining from any sensationalism or judgment calls, to which the likes of a film of this nature would ordinarily be disposed.
Lowe gives a convincing performance as John-- arguably some of the best work he's ever done-- and he underscores his role of narrator by making the story as much about the others as about himself, which is generous, and a good piece of acting. Foster, who would've been twenty-one or twenty-two when this was filmed (1984), displays an insight, poise and maturity well beyond her years, with a performance that is intuitively discerning and believable, and which serves the character so well while bringing her vividly to life. There is such a natural quality to Foster's acting that it makes her a joy to watch, and it makes Frannie a memorable character. The young Dundas is also very impressive in the role of Lilly and, like Foster, manages to bring the necessary maturity to the character that makes her entirely credible.
The supporting cast includes Wallace Shawn (Freud), Dorsey Wright (Junior), Cali Timmins (Bitty), Anita Morris (Ronda Ray) and Walter Massey (Texan). The film is by turns poignant, funny and disturbing; one could say a succinct reflection of life. And, diverse as this story is, thematically, there will undoubtedly be one aspect of it or another to which just about anyone will be able to relate. Because that's what life is; a journey we all share, but which we take on different roads that sooner or later are bound to intersect, and which becomes the point at which we realize something that's inescapable and possibly the most important thing we will ever learn: That we are not alone in this. And, in the final analysis, that is what `The Hotel New Hampshire' is all about. And that's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 7/10.
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