Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney, Sandra Bullock, K.T. Oslin, Anthony Clark|
|Producer:||John Davis, Darlene K. Chan, George Folsey Jr., Steve Foley|
The song “16th Avenue” by country singer Lacy J. Dalton describes a multitude of working-class people all trying to make it as singer-songwriters. Once in a great while some “golden words roll off someone’s tongue” and a hit song is created; but the great majority of aspirants will never see their hopes realized. This film has no relationship to Dalton’s song, other than that it takes the same true-to-life premise and expands it to feature length.
The film follows the fortunes of four aspiring young songwriters who’ve all made the pilgrimage to Nashville and who audition each week for guest spots at the Bluebird Cafe, promote their demo tapes to Country singers, and otherwise try to stand out from a huge crowd of people all chasing the same dream.
Miranda “No Relation” Presley (Samantha Mathis), from New York, meets up with trouble in the form of a volatile Texan, James Wright (River Phoenix). Wright and Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney) are both attracted to Miranda, and she has to make a choice. The fourth member of the group, the sweet and simple Linda Lue Linden, is played to perfection by Sandra Bullock. All four perform their own vocals, and Phoenix and Bullock actually wrote some of their own songs (but Phoenix didn’t really write “Blame It On Your Heart”). Country singer K.T. Oslin plays Lucy, the proprietor of the Bluebird. Trisha Yearwood and several other country stars appear as themselves.
The story is fairly honest in showing the problems and heartaches encountered when people chase a career where supply far outstrips demand. Anyone without a strong commitment will be weeded out quickly. Of those who remain, only a few will ever make it and the rest will keep chasing the dream part-time while also holding “day jobs.”
Content Warnings: The profanity is very scarce at first, but increases later on. Two of the leads engage in implied illicit sex, followed by a “trial marriage.” There are fights, reckless stunts, and some immoral activity related to promoting songs: lying, cheating, even breaking into a Country star’s car to insert a demo tape into her cassette player.
The soundtrack is near-nonstop Country music. Although I much prefer Country to rock-n-roll, the distinction between the two gets blurred at times. Of course there are negative lyrics about broken love and broken dreams; and where would a Country music movie be without the leads experiencing some of the stuff they sing about? This is sort of an ensemble version of the old Steve McQueen film “Baby, the Rain Must Fall.”
Mathis is impressive in her role. And Bullock is memorable as a sort of airhead/klutz who tries out for the Miss Nashville pageant (shades of her later role in “Miss Congeniality”).
Phoenix, one of my favorite young actors of the period as well as a fine musician and singer-songwriter, looks noticeably older here than his actual age of 22. This was one of his last films before he died of an OD outside a nightclub later that year, with real-life girlfriend Mathis by his side. If someone with his success, strong family ties, vegetarianism, animal rights activism etc. felt compelled to use dangerous drugs, it should serve as a reminder of the tremendous pressures in the world of the performing arts. And don’t forget that Elvis—who is greatly revered by some of the characters in this film—was also a drug casualty. Anyone contemplating such a career should consider not only the dangers of failure but also the dangers of success.