Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lovefest '07: #7. "I Swear, From This Moment Forth..."

Patricia Arquette in True Romance

Alabama Whitman sits below Clarence's fire escape, on the catwalk around a truck billboard, grumpily smoking and wrapped in a blanket. She looks awful. When Clarence (Christian Slater) joins her on their perch above the city, the scene will become about confessing that she is a call girl, hired as his birthday present, but has accidentally fallen in love. Arquette plays the big moments by shouting and ranting, with tears spilling out of her eyes, but don't get distracted; consider for a moment that this is one of the few declarations of romantic feelings in the Tarantinoverse: when people are calm and collected, they're at their deadliest. There's nothing scarier in this world than bearing your heart.

'Bama's yelling at Clarence, though he hasn't done anything wrong, or gotten the least bit upset with her. She's angry at herself and scared at the boy's potential reactions. It's a short scene, but Alabama cycles through fear, resolve-building, self-hatred, backpedaling explanation, and finally a sweet and silly announcement of her personal moral code. "I'm a good person. And when it comes to relationships, I'm 100 % ... monogamous." Her courage pays off, she finds acceptance, and the relief on Arquette's face, which moments before was bent as if steeling to be smacked, is a beam of Southern sunshine in the chilly Detroit night.

From Clarence's perspective, this is not about finding a hooker's heart of gold: he didn't know she was a hooker, and he already saw the gold. It's about a dream girl stripped of her glamours and proclaiming her flawed, raw humanity from a billboard, and the astonishment of discovering the dream girl beneath the dream girl. The real one, pale and red-nosed from the cold and crying, a little stuffed-up and with a blanket draped over her head, is even better. Alabama belongs solidly in my list of favorite Tarantino characters, and like the best of actors to tackle the writer's vivid dialogue, Patricia Arquette gives the woman shape and dimension beyond the page.

To pinpoint a moment of the performance: Arquette, looking miserable and sick, silent and alone, holding her cigarette like it's her last possession. You can see her mentally rifling through frustration, self-pity and anger, trying to build up courage, as she grapples with the biggest, happiest feeling of her life. That's how it starts. By the end, she's smiling.

No comments: