Fool for Love (1985):

In Robert Altman's undervalued transplantation of Sam Shepard's play, the two auteurs' far from dissimilar concerns with post-1960s American disorientation fuse in the plot's farcical-existential dramaturgy. Set in a semi- circle of battered buildings on the edge of the Mojave Desert, it charts the nightlong reunion of rangy, over-the- hill rodeo wrangler Eddie (Shepard) and bungalow-dwelling slattern May (Kim Bassinger). A soul kiss followed by a knee to the groin sets the tone for their relationship, if not the roots -- that falls for the incestuous knots at the base of their passion, courtesy of the Old Man (Harry Dean Stanton), whose bigamist ways have sired offspring meant to meet and fall in love/hate. Though boasting more exteriors than most of his other '80s stage-to-screen adaptations (including a splendid high-angle introductory subversion of the author's original interior stage specifications), Altman's handling of the material is if anything an even more stylized affair. Images distort narration, past memories blur present reality, and neon-crammed sets evoke formal dissonance worthy of One From the Heart, to say nothing of insistent Altmaniacs -- windows and mirrors, running-commentary country songs, restless footwork (one quick zoom into a motel room during a character's offscreen shotgun suicide is a stunner). For all his molding, Altman sticks to and ennobles the turmoil at the story's core, no doubt in agreement with Shepard's vision of the American Dream as up-in-flames junkyard, and in fascination with the May character -- an aching Shepard rambler, but also a wounded Altman heroine, superbly sketched in Kissinger's throbbing-flesh incarnation. Cinematography by Pierre Mignot. Songs by Sandy Rogers. With Randy Quaid as May's clueless courter, and Martha Crawford, Louise Egolf, and Sura Cox.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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