Sarandon and Spader have at it: White Palace (Luis Mandoki, 1990)


Do you like Susan Sarandon? Do you like James Spader? Do you like them both? Then here’s a film for you! If not, ehrm, you probably shouldn’t bother with White Palace, an enjoyable but inessential romance that‘s not quite a comedy. Max is a young Jewish lawyer still getting over the death of his wife. Nora is a tough 43-year-old waitress at a burger chain who has a Marilyn Monroe fixation and deep-seated insecurities. Can they find happiness together?

The leads are without a doubt the biggest draw. Their fans would probably enjoy seeing them here, and not just because there’s a fair bit of sex and nudity. Sarandon commits totally to her role, and Spader plays a fairly nice guy for a change, while showing his unusual adeptness at allowing himself to be looked at. They’re a good match for each other. The movie isn’t exactly funny (especially given that most of the humour rather ill-advisedly involves Jewish stereotypes), but as a well-acted drama and romance, it does have enough surprises and nice character moments to keep things from feeling rote.

There’s obviously some choice dichotomies going on between the protagonists, but I think the movie could have explored them a little better. Spader’s character can be a cipher, and his big realisation and confession is interesting (the core issue goes beyond ‘she’s old’ or even ‘my wife is dead’), but I think it could have been interwoven throughout the story a bit more. I suppose that’s common in romantic movies, but I think the catharsis is lessened if the viewer doesn’t know what a character needs to let out until they actually do it.

Overall, the film’s mood is pleasantly low-key. Apart from the Jewish stuff, it has a cohesive feel, and it’s enjoyable to spend time in these characters’ world. I think it could actually benefit from being longer. Apparently there was an extra storyline involving Max’s work that got cut, which perhaps could have improved things. With a little more time spent detailing the characters and their lives, it would be more easily recommendable.


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