Sunday, December 4, 2022

Scent of a Woman

A movie that I've had sitting on my DVR for quite some time is one that's pushing 30 years old: Scent of a Woman. Recently, I finally sat down to watch it so that I could do a review here and free up some space on my DVR.

The Baird School is one of those tony all-boys schools in New Hampshire which have been around for well over a century and which has the scions of rich alumni making up a good portion of its student body. One person who isn't part of that crowd is Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell). He's from Oregon and his mother and step-father run a convenience store; Charlie had to win a scholarship and accept financial aid to be able to attend Baird. Other students, such as George Willis, Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman with even worse hair than he'd have later in life, and credited as Philip S. Hoffman), kind of put Charlie down as they're able to go off to a ski resort for Thanksgiving.

Charlie, however, needs to work over the holiday, hoping that he can earn enough to afford a plane ticket home for the Christmas break. To that end, he responds to an ad put up by Karen Rossi, one of the townies. She's looking for somebody to be a companion to her uncle Frank over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the Rossis are planning to visit the husband's family in New York, and Uncle Frank doesn't want to go as it's not his side of the family. But why is Uncle Frank living with his niece and her fairly young family anyway? And why does he need a companion?

Well, even if you didn't already know the plot to the movie, you might be attentive enough to notice that Frank has gone blind, for reasons that will be explained later in the movie. He's also an irascible bastard, although it's probably not the blindness that caused that. Nobody else has wanted to be Frank's companion for the holiday, and Charlie isn't so certain he wants to either. But then, he needs the money.

Meanwhile, back at Baird, Charlie also has some personal problems coming up. A couple of his classmates, who are much closer friends with George, decide to play a prank on the headmaster, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn), which involves putting up a balloon on a lamppost. Charlie and George see these guys putting up the balloon, as does an older female employee who, because of her bad eyesight, isn't able to figure out what exactly is going on. But when the prank is pulled off, she knows that there were a couple of guys involved and that, more importantly, Charlie and George might be witnesses. So Trask starts putting the screws to Charlie and George to name names. George has a wealthy father and can possibly pull strings to get off, but Charlie doesn't have the power.

And if that's a downer to Charlie's Thanksgiving, it's going to get a whole lot more messy for him. Frank is Lt. Col. Frank Slade, US Army (Ret.), so he has a fierce sense of honor and duty, which includes not necessarily snitching on people. An in addition to being an irascible bastard, he's also a manipulative SOB. So before he knows it, Slade has arranged for a taxi to take the two of them to the airport to take the puddle-jumper to New York for a Thanksgiving weekend on the town that Karen knows nothing about.

And then there's the real reason for the trip to New York. Frank, having lost his eyesight thanks to his negligent handling of hand grenades, has decided that he's going to have one final blowout before shooting himself to death. When Charlie finds out about this, he's understandably horrified. But how can he stop a man determined to kill himself? Of course, this being a Hollywood movie, Charlie and Frank are going to learn from each other and, well, come to some sort of resolution.

The big problem with Scent of a Woman, and one that I see some contemporary reviewers had, is that the movie moves too sedately and goes on way too long. It's a little over 150 minutes before the closing credits roll, but is the sort of story that really should have been written to run under two hours. There's not as much here as the running time might have you think. It may not help, either, that Frank is a fairly obnoxious movie for much of the movie. It's no wonder nobody wanted to be his companion. Pacino won the Oscar, although I can't help but think it's more of a showy role than one that really required acting chops.

Still, there's enough to like about Scent of a Woman to make it worth a watch, especially Chris O'Donnell being appealing as the young man and nice cinematography. It's just that I can't help but think the movie could have been even better.

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