Tune in Tomorrow and the Search for Light Comedy

Tune in TomorrowBack in 1990, I walked into a movie theater cold, and was treated to Tune in Tomorrow. It is a very clever film adaptation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s 1977 novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. It stars Barbara Hershey, Keanu Reeves, and Peter Falk. Set in 1950s New Orleans, it features a great score by Wynton Marsalis, much of which is in situ in clubs and restaurants. It also has a beautiful pastel themed art direction that captures the period in all its rose colored nostalgia. Tune in Tomorrow is a sweet and funny comedy that should delight everyone.

So why did it bomb? Why do critics generally dismiss it? Why has no one I know ever seen it? I think I know the answer to this question. The problem is with me. There are many films that I think are anywhere from good to classic that other people dismiss. A partial list will do: Medicine River, Krippendorf’s Tribe, French Kiss. And the problem seems to be that these are sweet and funny comedies. Had they been made in France, well that would be fine. The French are into that sort of thing. So films like My Best Friend, Romantics Anonymous, and The Dinner Game get a fair hearing because the French are allowed to make such movies.

But big budget comedies are somehow not okay in America — at least as long as they aren’t Dumb and Dumber or one of the Farrelly brothers’ films. It’s a strange thing. “Critics” like to complain that Hollywood doesn’t make films for adults, but when Hollywood does make films geared toward escapist fun for adults, these same people savage the films. Apparently, films for adults are supposed to be limited to deadly serious films like Schindler’s List.

I’ll admit, I tend to like French comedies (and generally, European ones) more than American comedies. They tend to be more emotionally complex. They also tend to have relatively low budgets. It seems that Hollywood can’t make a film only for adults; they also worry if it will play with the kids. And God help us when Hollywood decides to remake one of these foreign films. A good example is the remake of The Dinner Game. The original was basically just a filmed play. Almost the entire thing took place in a single location. But the remake, Dinner for Schmucks, became some kind of bloated frenzy, designed to appeal to the only demographic Hollywood is really interested in.

But Tune in Tomorrow really is worth watching. I fully admit, the film would have been better if the French had made it. But I doubt the great care in art direction and music would have been shown. It really is a beautiful film to watch and hear. It was clearly a prestige film — just look at the cast for some of the minor roles: Peter Gallagher, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Hedaya. I suspect that the studio intended to kill it, because I would have thought it would have played reasonably well. It’s hard to say. But lucky for you, the whole thing is available on YouTube — at least for now.

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