A comedy-drama about adultery and long-term marital affection, Alan Rudolph's Afterglow (1997) rises and falls on the strength of his cast. Replete with Rudolph's signature touches -- from the roving camera and long takes, to stylized sets and synchronic lives -- the story of de facto mate-swapping involving a young, upwardly mobile couple and an older handyman and faded B-movie actress ruminates on the myriad motives that compel the married to stray. Though Lara Flynn Boyle and Jonny Lee Miller were adjudged to be less than satisfying as the tightly wound younger couple, Nick Nolte's sympathetic Lothario, Lucky Mann, and particularly Julie Christie's haunted Phyllis Mann elevated the proceedings. Christie's luminously complex performance and mature beauty easily show how Phyllis can still outshine women half her age (quietly needling the Hollywood fascination with youth), while she masterfully reveals the unfathomable despair that has come to rule Phyllis' life. Even reviewers less than enthusiastic about Afterglow's tone shifts and ambiguities hailed Christie, and she went on to win numerous critics' awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Director Alan Rudolph offers a typically idiosyncratic look at a relationship approaching the point of collapse. Phyllis Mann (Julie Christie) and her husband Lucky (Nick Nolte) are a married couple living in Montreal whose marriage has slowly skidded to a halt. There's still a glimmer of affection left between the two, but very little love and no passion. Phyllis, a one-time horror film star, spends her days alone, often lost in her memories as she watches her old films on television, while Lucky works as a repairman and builder, often engaging in brief liaisons with the women he's working for. Phyllis is aware of Lucky's infidelity but isn't terribly concerned; she doesn't mind if he goes elsewhere for sex, as long as he's not looking for anything more serious. The fragile link between Phyllis and Lucky begins to crack when Lucky is hired by Maxine Byron (Lara Flynn Boyle) to help convert a room in her home into a nursery. Maxine desperately wants children, but her arrogant yuppie husband Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller) has no interest in starting a family, so she hopes that Lucky might be willing to help her. As coincidence would have it, Phyllis is starting to feel as if she needs someone new in her life, and she begins an affair with Jeffrey. Julie Christie's performance as Phyllis earned the actress her third Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola