Alan Rudolph’s Fanciful Despair: RAY MEETS HELEN

By JAMES KENNEY. Originally published at WhatchaReading.com

RAY MEETS HELEN , released in 2018 and now available on a BluRay double feature with his Nick Nolte/Julie Christie masterpiece AFTERGLOW, was Alan Rudolph’s first film in fifteen or so years, and it definitely feels like an Alan Rudolph film. Thich means it’s a legitimate work of art expressing a remarkable vision, and the enduring fans of CHOOSE ME,  MRS. PARKER & THE VICIOUS CIRCLE and many others will enjoy slipping into this warm bath of Rudolph themes and obsessions, with six-time Rudolph collaborator Keith Carradine once again taking the lead. Rudolph’s films always have a spry, weird flavor to them – they almost all feel like flukes, happy accidents that couldn’t be repeated, but he’s made over 20 at this point, and RAY MEETS HELEN is gaily more of the same.

A humanist, Alan Rudolph has not entered the pantheon of artistic prominence reserved for his mentor, Robert Altman. But without questioning Altman’s grand, groundbreaking work, I find him rather misanthropic, often with a pompous “You guys are all assholes/dummies/disappointments” vibe that can be really acidic (his in-most-ways extraordinary SHORT CUTS misinterprets much of Raymond Carver’s humanistic work – Carver loves the people he writes about, Altman despises them).  Rudolph has more in common with Carver than Altman ever did, as he feels for his dizzy, lost characters, and if anything Rudolph’s take is “we are all assholes/dummies/disappointments, but just give us a chance” – there is no aloofness between him and his messy, selfish, loving, hating, and yearning characters.  What other director would bring out all his characters, including extras and minor parts, for an ending-credit singalong? Rudolph loves them all.

Rudolph’s latest, released by Moonstone Entertainment, is best described as a “screwball drama” about Ray (Carradine) and Helen (Sondra Locke), each weighed down with money woes and life regrets. But both suffers a rather strange and Rudolphesque change in fortune, and they seize the opportunity to reinvent themselves—and meet, and fall in love, in their newly devised identities, as “Time’s Winged Chariot” hurries near.

Carradine, Jennifer Tilly as his ex, Samantha Mathis, and the always welcome Keith David as Carradine’s boss and only friend in the world all slip effortlessly into Rudolph’s crank dream world with its musical, elegiac dialogue  (mixed with manic bursts of stripped emotion). Locke, long unseen as an actress, is an out of the ordinary presence, but in her dream state she seems a bit more heavy-eyed than the rest; the plot structure even has her feel like a character entering a Rudolph world that Carradine’s character already exists in, trying to comprehend its rules, strengths, and precincts, and I grew impatient for Helen to get up to speed with everyone else. Nevertheless, even with observable budgetary limitations, Rudolph’s uncommonly keen eye (he has been painting since his last film) doesn’t fail him – the film looks a piece with his beautiful previous works such as CHOOSE ME and LOVE AT LARGE.  For people who have any kind of faith in anything anymore, without also being simpletons,  RAY MEETS HELEN is well worth your time.

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