“Always” flawed, but still a pleasure
“Always” surprised me because it was a far better film than I remembered it being or critics gave credit.
It took me a very long time to see it again because I mistook it for “Heaven can wait” which I hated.
So more was the shock when I saw it and realized I had not seen it before, though I had seen “A guy named Joe” upon which “Always” was based.
Instead of a World War II flyer, we get a forest fire fighter.
Yet “Always” covers the same emotional ground, a love story in which the flyer and his lover pledge to love each other always, a concept that gets tested when the first dies and returns as a spirit to help guide another young flyer the way some previous spirit had helped guide him.
The plot complication arises when the dead flyer decides to pursue his own agenda of keeping his promise to love her girl always rather than to help hone the flying skills of the man who is destined to replace him.
“Always” is not Steven Spielberg’s best effort, suffering from a consistent Spielberg flaw of sentimentality and a weak motivational plot line.
Brilliant camera work, equally compelling performance and magnificent manufacturing of scenes saves this film from its flaws, giving it humor and depth a lesser film maker could not have achieved.
In “Always,” Richard Dreyfus plays the romantic lead while John Goodman more or less provides comic relief.
While I have been a fan of Goodman’s since his days with Citizen Kafka on WBAI-FM, I never thought of myself as a Dreyfus fan until I realized I liked nearly everything I’ve ever seen him in – particularly Jaws, Close Encounters and The Goodbye Girl.
His performance here made me believe why he as a ghost would not want to let go of the girl he loved, even when death divided them and let linger unresolved feelings.
“Always” in this regard very strongly resembles another film, “Ghost” where the hero’s untimely and violent death leaves similar unresolved issues. “Ghost,” however, has a stronger parallel plot that gives that film drive “Always” lacks.
In “Ghost,” the hero is murdered in the street, and while he is a ghost in love, he lingers largely to help resolve his own murder.
In a vivid and powerful use of dramatic irony, this ghost discovered that his best friend has ordered his death to cover up a money-laundering scheme the ghost when still living accidentally uncovered. This friend has also set his sights on seducing the dead man’s girlfriend.
The plot is complicated by the fact that the hero prior to his death sealed the questionable account in hopes of finding out where the extra money came from, and his friend desperately seeks to find the code again to release the cash, and once regained, the hero as a ghost must somehow snatch it back from the villain.
The love story in “Ghost” is a subplot tightly knit to the main plot, dealing with the ghost’s longing to continue love death cut short. He suffers from the fact that fate allows him to see but not to interact with the person he loves.
“Always” in some ways reverses the plot-subplot structure.
The love story becomes its focus, supported by a much weaker subplot.
As in “Ghost,” “Always” sets up the love story showing Dreyfus as a daring and perhaps even reckless pilot who risks his life and his lover’s faith by taking unnecessary chances often simply for the thrill of it, not particularly to save lives.
Ironically, the Dreyfus character dies as the result of the noble act of saving the Goodman character’s life, and does a disservice to the plot of the tale by weakening Dreyfus’ motivation when he returns as a ghost.
Had Dreyfus come back with the idea of making amends for misbehavior, some reckless act that resulted in his death, the film would have had a powerful motivational engine to carry on with.
Instead, the ghost hero is assigned to help guide the man who will become his rival for the still-living girlfriend’s affections.
Even with the suggestion that Dreyfus will have to compete with his living competition for his girlfriend’s affections, the motivation is much weaker than if Dreyfus had come back and been forced to make amends for his reckless and pointless death.
To hammer this point home even more, I would have altered the dramatic final flying scene substituting Dreyfus’ girlfriend for the other flyer, forcing Dreyfus to help the flyer make a dramatic rescue at the expense of improving his image in the girlfriend’s eyes.
Thus Dreyfus in a testimony of love, to show a girlfriend who will never know about his sacrifice, wins his own release from the ghostly world by helping the man who will inherit her heart.
As currently constructed, “Always” lacks the strong motivation to pull its string of scenes into a coherent whole.
While “Always” like “Ghost” has a brilliant comedy subplot with Goodman giving one film a comic kick while Woopie Goldberg gives “Ghost” it’s kick, the “Ghost” comic plot is so tied into the main plot that it helps strengthen the whole film.
As brilliant as Goodman is, his part of the tale hangs onto the film like an ornament.
Two scenes comparable in each show the potency difference.
In “Ghost,” the girlfriend comes to realize that her dead boyfriend has returned.
In “Always,” she only dreams or senses it, and for that reason we get less intensity.
The girlfriend in “Ghost” become intimately involved in the plot, and, in fact, becomes someone the hero ghost must rescue, and in doing so, must find a way to interact with her.
The girlfriend in “Always” tends to be out of touch, a hazy force, more of an object of affection than a person, always lingering outside the envelop of Dreyfus’ existence, exerting a weak motivational force.
Visually, of course, “Always” is vastly superior to “Ghost” in every way with sets so vivid and textured, watching them is like eating dessert – not just the lay out, position of characters, but the amazing way imagines are presented, a perpetually living landscape through which the viewer travels from beginning to end. This is so powerful that even at the plot’s most powerful moments, the visuals provide pure pleasure.