A Walk In The Clouds Blu-ray Review
Not a walk to remember.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 25, 2011
Mexican director Alfonso Arau had a surprise hit in 1992 with his magical realism-infused love story Like Water for Chocolate
, but his follow-up
and first American film, 1995's A Walk in the Clouds
, is an overwrought, let's-try-real-hard-to-make-em-like-they-used-to melodrama that's
almost comically bad. Picture a commercial for The Olive Garden: the wilting attempts at seeming genuinely ethnic, the smarmy actors smiling like
their paychecks depend on it, the soppy sentiments about how "when you're here, you're family." Well, A Walk in the Clouds
is basically the
cinematic equivalent. It's cloying, inauthentic, and just about as bloated as your stomach after a big old greasy plate of pasta. You'll feel like taking a
nap after this one—if you make it to the end without falling asleep anyway, that is.
Keanu Reeves, everyone's favorite trout-mouthed actor, plays Sgt. Paul Sutton, a Handsome War Hero who returns to San Francisco in 1945 after a
traumatic four-year tour in the Pacific. His perilous combat experience gave him plenty of pause to think and write endless letters about, you know,
like, the kind of life he wants to have and stuff—the house, the white picket fence, the dog, the kids—but when he finally reunites with his ditzy wife
(Debra Messing), she confesses to having never read any of his prolific correspondence. See, they had one of those whirlwind, got-married-on-
Sunday-shipped-off-to-war-on-Monday romances, and they barely actually know each other. Plus, she seems like a bit of a floozy. Obviously, their
relationship is only going to last long enough to provide a convenient impediment to the plot.
Having returned to his pre-war job as a traveling chocolate salesman—really—Paul embarks on a business trip to Sacramento and Meets Cute with
Victoria Aragon (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a Stanford grad student on her way home to Napa Valley, where her large Mexican-American family owns a
vineyard called Las Nubes
. Yes, "the clouds," where much walking will inevitably take place. There's a spark of attraction between them, but
there's a major complication: Victoria got knocked up by one of her profs, and she's worried that her traditionalist father, Alberto (Giancarlo
Giannini), will explode when he finds out. Paul, clearly on no real timeline, proffers a suggestion—he'll go home with her for the night, pose as her
husband, and then run off in the morning, making it look like he's left her for good. That way, he can take the blame for her illegitimate bun in the
oven. He slips a gold, tin-foil ring from one of his chocolates onto her finger, and the ruse is complete.
Now, of course, we all know that this is just a contrived set-up to allow Paul and Victoria to fall in love. We know a happy-ever-after ending is
inevitable. We can already see the closing kiss they share and hear the swelling orchestra behind them. What a film like this needs, then, is a
compelling second act, a series of complications and conflicts that will make that ending plausible and give the audience reason to care.
Unfortunately, A Walk in the Clouds
overplays the histrionics to sometimes unintentionally hilarious effect. The first sign that we're off to a
melodramatic start is when Paul and Victoria show up at the vineyard, only to be greeted by her father, glowering and leveling a massive shotgun at
them, with an enormous ammo belt strapped over his shoulder. Is he tending his vines or setting out to join la revolución
? It's faintly
but this is only the beginning of the over-the-top emotional theatrics. Alberto hates
Paul with a seething, frothing, turbid intensity that
doesn't seem even remotely humanly possible. He's got a bad case of that who is this gringo come to steal my daughter away
Giannini hams it up like a villain in a community theater production, arching his eyebrows and wildly gesticulating to underscore his every angry
utterance. To counteract this insanity, we have Victoria's avuncular grandpa (Anthony Quinn), a vaguely Gabriel Garcia Marquez-ish patriarch who
takes a sudden shine to Paul after om-nom-nomming on one of our blank-faced protagonist's bon-bons.
The story makes its twists and turns dutifully. Paul agrees to stay for another, and yet another night, gets sucked into the Aragon's family routine—
including an admittedly joyous harvest celebration, the best scene in the film—and finds himself pining for a real relationship with his fake wife.
Meanwhile, Alberto smells something fishy and storms around the house, fuming, intent on exposing whatever lie Victoria is concealing from him.
When the ugly truth eventually comes out, it ignites a literal fire—think a really maudlin take on Days of Heaven
's climactic inferno—that
threatens the family's livelihood but also serves a purifying purpose. Alberto, a proud man, is humbled, Paul is accepted into the family—after an oh-
so-opportune annulment from his philandering wife, natch—and love conquers all. Sigh.
, depending on how nauseated maudlin emotion makes you. Director Alfonso Arau goes all out with big sweeping sentiment here,
both narratively and visually, bathing the film's rather fake-looking sets in nostalgically amber swathes of light, suggesting golden hour at some
hypothetical theme park version of Napa Valley. The romance between Paul and Victoria is just as hokey. Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, perhaps best known
now for her turn in The Machinist
, is suitably sultry—she goes into a near orgasmic frenzy whilst stomping grapes, her skirt hiked high—but
Keanu's Bill and Ted
vocal inflections seem woefully out of place in a film set in the 1940s. I don't think he's as bad an actor as most folks
make him out to be, but he's definitely miscast here. He just doesn't gel with Sánchez-Gijón; he's robotic where she's organic, vacant where she's
expressive. Sour grapes, indeed.