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Oleanna Movie Review

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Let me preface this by mentioning that House of Games, Things Change, and Homicide are among my favorite movies of 1987–91. And then there's…Oleanna. When I was in my first year at UCD, I was stuck with a professor who couldn't stand being a professor. And I couldn't stand him. He wrote nice things on my papers and he spoke well of me to others, but whenever we were in the same room, he was whiny and belligerent, and finally I went to his office to ask him what I had to do to pass his class without having to see him anymore. Without looking up from his desk, he said, “Three papers. Any subject. I don't care.” And that ended it. (It also meant I wound up getting my degree and credential by NEVER going to any class if writing papers were the option instead of showing up.) I thought about this professor when I saw a professor named John in David Mamet's Oleanna. How do these guys get tenure? They're so clueless about their effect on others and teaching is all about the effect that someone who knows has on a student who doesn't know. John is a windbag, in love with the sound of his own voice. His student Carol (let me put this charitably) is unfinished and easily led. She doesn't know her own mind yet and she simmers through harangues she doesn't want to hear when she COULD (a) speak up for herself or (b) split. When these two get together, Oleanna becomes a LOOONG (90 minutes) polemical rant. William H. Macy, a fine actor, and Debra Eisenstadt do what they can with their unplayable, slogan-driven parts. Somehow, Mamet's heart does not seem to be in Oleanna since there's nothing in the text to show that he cares about either character. For a writer who cares vitally about every character in House of Games, Things Change, and Homicide, this is sad. woof!

1994 90m/C William H. Macy, Debra Eisenstadt; D: David Mamet; W: David Mamet; C: Andrzej Sekula; M: Rebecca Pidgeon. Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards ‘95: Best Actor (Macy). VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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