With the reunion of the great director James Ivory with star Anthony Hopkins, who appeared in the director’s Howards End and The Remains of the Day, The City of Your Final Destination starts off with the promise of the kind of well-acted human drama that they don’t make that often any more, even on the arthouse scene. Add great actresses Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg to the cast and it’s enough to get the right cinephile as excited as a Twilight fan reading a new Stephenie Meyer book. And the opening scenes of The City of Your Final Destination hint at a gorgeously shot film that one hopes will be matched by the incredible insight of Ivory’s best work with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who won Oscars for her adaptation of A Room With a View and Howards End.
Sadly, the follow-through never lives up to the set-up. The City of Your Final Destination is a beautiful film and the performances, particularly those of the more experienced cast members, are expectedly excellent, but the story is nonexistent and the dialogue so self-conscious that the entire proceeding becomes as numbing as someone reading a mediocre book aloud. The City of Your Final Destination features very few character exchanges that feel genuine and the whole film sinks under the weight of its own pretension. Ultimately, the film best serves as a cautionary tale about how the best actors and most luscious cinematography of the most beautiful locations can still turn out a dull film if the script doesn’t work.
Based on the 2002 book by Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination tells the story of a biographer’s quest to tell the story of a legendary author named Jules Gund, a reclusive man who wrote only one novel but became so beloved that his family now lives on a massive estate in Uruguay that not only feels like a part of another country but another time. The family denies Omar the biographer’s (Omar Metwally) request but he’s pressured by his girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) to go to Uruguay and convince the Gunds of the importance of his work. There he meets Jules’ bitter widow (Laura Linney), a more-friendly older brother (Anthony Hopkins), the brother’s lover (Hiroyuki Sanada), Jules’ lover (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and that woman’s daughter (Ambar Mallman). The bulk of The City of Your Final Destination consists of exchanges between Omar and one or two of the ensemble listed in the previous sentence as he learns about the past and present of the Gund estate.
These people aren’t typically exaggerated eccentrics but their exclusion from society makes them hard to relate to as an audience member. As Linney once says, “I was beginning to think there was no one else in the world.” Omar has clearly been designed as the reader/viewer’s eyes into this unusual sub-society that still lives under so much of the shadow of its suicidal patriarch but the young Mr. Metwally never develops an interesting character of his own. He’s all response and it’s often to a world so over-the-top in its representation of wealth that it nearly borders on parody. At one point, Omar encounters the sullen widow sitting in a room of artwork and cracking walnuts, to which she responds, “I was just eating my breakfast.” The gorgeous estate and luscious cinematography make for a film that’s almost too beautiful in that even actors as talented as these can’t find the humanity.
Most of the time. There are still moments where Linney, Gainsbourg, Sanada, and Hopkins shine through the pretentious artifice. There’s a great scene between Linney and Gainsbourg where the former takes passive-aggressive stabs at the latter about her new flirtation with the young writer. Sadly, Omar pops in and puts a wet blanket on the proceedings. It’s a pattern of the entire film. Every time it threatens to get interesting, it stops. Until, eventually, it no longer threatens.
Rating: TWO BONES