Article By: Dan Clark
Steven Spielberg has easy been one of the most recognizable names in cinema for the last few decades. Not all of his films have been successes, but even his failures tend to draw heaps of attention. There is one film that is easily his most forgotten. One that many Spielberg enthusiasts forget ever existed. That film is the 1989 Fantasy Romance Always. After watching Always it is not hard to see why it has been removed from most people’s memory banks. It is simply a misfire in nearly every possible way. The script is lacking in any substance, the pacing is void of movement, and the romance is artificially designed to garner unearned emotion. The lead performers do their best to drag the film along, but by the time the film ends it is evident that Always is a film you would never want to see again.
Always is actually a remake of the 1944 Spencer Tracy vehicle A Guy Named Joe. In that film Tracy is a World War II fighter pilot who dies, but is sent back to earth by Heaven to train a young pilot to take his place. To complicate matters he also must watch that same trainee fall into a romantic relationship with his former girlfriend. In Always Richard Dreyfuss stars as an aerial forest-fire fighter that has a flair for the dramatic. He is a daredevil in every sense of the word, constantly putting his life on the line in hopes of drenching the engulfing forest fires. Holly Hunter plays his reluctant love interest that has to put up with his reckless behavior. She struggles to decide if she wants to hug him or hit him for the way he plays games with his life. John Goodman also costars as Dreyfuss’s lovable wingman.
All these lead actors give quality work. The issue is they never feel connected. Goodman and Dreyfuss are designed to be best buddies, but it never comes off that way. Most importantly is the dearth of chemistry between Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. There is a lot thrown on screen in the first twenty minutes to make us believe these two have this passionate love affair. In a way it appears as if you are watching the final climax of another movie where the reconciliation of their relationship was built up to earn these love struck moments. Here we are playing catch-up as we try to determine the true nature of their relationship. Everything about is utterly contrived. Nothing is authentic, nor is there any legitimate basis for their relationship. Obviously we do not need an entire history lesson of their love affair, or have everything spelled out to us in minute detail. However, when you have a central relationship that lacks both chemistry and a solid foundation the rest of the film noticeably suffers.
Similar to Spencer Tracy in the original Dreyfuss also sees his life end in tragedy. In a harrowing rescue attempt he saves his wingman, but in the processes loses his own life. The aerial acrobatics, like this rescue attempt, are wonderfully handled. Spielberg has a knack for showing aerial combat, as you can see in films like 1941 and Empire of the Sun. Watching classic WWII fighters battle these blazes was the only time there was any resemblance of urgency. Dreyfuss mission on Earth is far from over as a heavenly angel, played flawlessly by the legend herself Audrey Hepburn, assigns him to train the man who will eventually be his replacement—in more ways than one. When he goes back no one can see him, but his whispers do have the power to inspire. Brad Johnson was slated to be that replacement, and he gives a performance that can only be described as an absolute dud. His attempts to be charming evoke nothing more than groan and eye rolls. It’s no wonder the storyline tosses his entire arc aside for the latter half of the movie.
This entire concept is also never fully utilized. Dreyfuss becomes not much more than a majestic backseat driver. He walks around aimlessly wanting for the right moment to make his presence known, which is very similar to the films overall pacing. Much of it drags slowly long with no sense of direction. There is little logic to how the story develops as it moves from point to point. Especially when it comes to the final climax that comes out of nowhere. It was as if the film decided it was done so it hurried it along to get this dreary adventure over. Spielberg may have films that are technically worse than Always, though that may be a hard argument to make. In any event Always commits the biggest sin any form of entertainment can make—it is unequivocally forgettable. You do not walk away in a heap of frustration due to the low quality; instead you walk away in a fog wondering where the last two hours of your life went.