Hysterical Blindness Reviews
Thurman is Debby Miller, a thirty-ish, '80s bound, New Jersey bred, lonely heart in the process of sinking into the suppressed life of an old maid. She's desperate for love - she and her best friend, single mom Beth (Juliette Lewis), parade around seedy bars looking for potential suitors like a second job - but as her low self-confidence is more up front than her immense good looks, she turns most men off, finding herself in a plight of one-night-stands instead of meaningful relationships. She's torn between continuing her search for Mr. Right and completely giving up; she still lives with her mother (Gena Rowlands), and still holds onto a low-paying job she most likely got in her early twenties. Eventually, Debby finds a possible mate in Rick (Justin Chambers), a seemingly nice guy she met during one of her late-night escapades.
The hysterical blindness of the title derives from a condition that causes its victim to temporary become visually impaired after a long period of unresolved stress. Debby, so mind-numbingly obsessed with her lack of a love life, experiences the bizarre phenomenon, twice in the film (once in the beginning, to develop her as a neurotic leading lady, and once toward the conclusion, as a dramatic high point that begs her to consider what the hell she's doing with her life).
Directed by Mira Nair, "Hysterical Blindness" is a drama frustrating in its inability to stay earnest throughout its length. Most of the film is moving, well-acted, but Nair, against good judgment, feels the need to include "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" repeatedly in the soundtrack as if to make the impression that we're watching a sappy woman's world drama more spurious than sincere, to render Debby and Beth as stereotypically New Jersey as possible to make their desperation even more desperate. Thurman and Lewis are so broadly drawn that it's a relief that they stir our emotions during their more dramatic scenes - there, the acting school vulgarity disappears and we finally feel like we understand these women.
It's irritating that "Hysterical Blindness" is so regularly prodded by fakery, because, at its realest, most truthful, it momentarily turns into a movie rich in its passion. It's at its best when focusing on the relationship between Virginia (Rowlands) and her new boyfriend, Nick (Ben Gazzara). Both in their sixties, both numbed and used to their discontent, the love they find together is unexpected and exciting; Rowlands and Gazzara, in a mini Cassavetes reunion, are deeply touching. The side-plot makes for a good contrast between that of Debby and Beth - they would do anything to have a meaningful romance, and while they wander around various taverns, Virginia, who has been a waitress the majority of her adult life, simple finds someone by being herself. The scenes between Rowlands and Thurman are palpably wistful, their mother-daughter bond so thick that it's less of a familial pairing and more of a friends-forever partnership that guarantees the other that when the going gets rough, sticking together will hardly be an action in question.
"Hysterical Blindness" is mostly a mixed bag, a sometimes poignant, sometimes obviously calculated comedy-drama that hits home at its best moments but feels like leftovers from an actor's previous vie for an Oscar nomination that didn't quite make it at its worst. But the cast does well with the uneven material, especially Rowlands, making "Hysterical Blindness" decent enough to make even the most cynical of viewers take a look at the world around them and wonder just how many people live to love, throwing their happiness away when they can't quite find it.