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Movie Review

Irene in Time

‘Irene’ has a daddy complex

Gordon Davidson and Tanna Frederick in “Irene in Time.’’

Gordon Davidson and Tanna Frederick in “Irene in Time.’’
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / December 11, 2009

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The little island that is Henry Jaglom Land - a privileged sanctuary of LA self-absorption - has been floating further and further from shore in recent years. The writer-director was a fringe member of the New Hollywood crowd before turning to filmmaking in the early 1970s; since 1983’s “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?,’’ he has been steadily churning out talky, low-budget vanity films that sometimes skewer Left Coast navel-gazing and sometimes just embody it. “Irene in Time’’ is one of the latter.

The film stars Jaglom’s latest discovery, Tanna Frederick, a big-boned redhead with an air of desperate narcissism that’s impossible to watch without flinching. In 2006’s “Hollywood Dreams,’’ Frederick’s wannabe actress was intentionally off-putting; here, I’m not so sure. She’s the singing Mrs. Miller of movie ingénues, tone-deaf in every last note she hits.

Jaglom’s movies have female-centric themes: maternity in “Babyfever’’ (1994), shopping in “Going Shopping’’ (2005), eating in “Eating’’ (1990). “Irene in Time’’ is about women’s relationships with their fathers, in particular Irene’s pathological crush on her long-vanished pop, a rambler and a gambler and a sweet-talkin’ ladies man. Her mother (a cool Victoria Tennant) is long over the bum, but Irene’s cringingly earnest search for a man just like daddy sends potential boyfriends fleeing in the opposite direction. Or maybe it’s that she’s incapable of listening to anyone but herself.

It’s never clear with what mixture of pity and adoration Jaglom wants us to see this creature. After three decades of moviemaking, his approach remains the same: Round up a bunch of semi-celebrity pals (Karen Black, David Proval, Andrea Marcovicci) to surround his main characters with improvised patio chitchat that never sounds remotely like the way people actually speak. The Jaglom oeuvre is a time capsule of complacent LA upper-middle-class values circa 1979, as if the director were afraid to venture up the Santa Monica Freeway to see if the world has changed in three decades.

There are a few awkward plot twists and a score made up of painfully twee cabaret songs by Harriet Schock, sung live in the film by the composer, Frederick, and others. The final sequence is the only time “Irene in Time’’ hints that its heroine is as deluded as we think she is; that Jaglom then dedicates the film “to my daughter’’ is just plain creepy. The daughter, Sabrina Jaglom, and a wise-faced young son, Simon Orson Jaglom, appear too, with more natural charisma than the movie’s leading lady.

“Irene in Time’’ is the initial first-run feature to debut at the Stuart Street Playhouse, Boston’s newest art house cinema. Both the theater and its audiences deserve much better.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

IRENE IN TIME Written and directed by: Henry Jaglom

Starring: Tanna Frederick, Kelly De Sarla, Victoria Tennant, Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Black

At: Stuart Street Playhouse

Running time: 94 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (thematic elements and some sexual content)

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