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   AT FIRST SIGHT (1999) 

[Get the Poster]

CAST
Val Kilmer
Mira Sorvino
Kelly McGillis
Steven Weber
Nathan Lane
Bruce Davison

DIRECTED BY
Irwin Winkler

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 124 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Romance/Drama


I have to admit that I'm generally a big fan of Val Kilmer's. I know he's supposed to be a real bastard prima donna in real life, but that's not all that unsual in performers, so I can forgive him as long as he is wonderful onscreen. AT FIRST SIGHT may not be beneath his talent, but it certainly isn't a film that's going to showcase it either. It's understandable that most actors want to play a character that's either mentally or physically handicapped – it truly allows them to explore and become something they definitely are not – but maybe there should be a good story behind the character as well.

In this case there is, Virgil becomes one of the few blind people to ever regain their eyesight, but it's such a mish-mash of genres it never really solidifies into anything real. The romance is too depressing and the medical stuff is just waved over. It could have blended better if the filmmakers just concentrated on the love story and his feelings about being able to see for the first time. We don't care about his family problems and her job. They have nothing to do with the meat of this story – how do these two people keep their love alive when they expect completely different things out of this miracle.

And a miracle it is. Virgil (Kilmer) has been blind since he was a toddler with only one major sight memory (which has a big discovery moment in the last part of the film, that I, unlike Mira Sorvino's character figured out the minute he described it). He's a massage therapist who gives Amy (Sorvino) the massage of her life in more ways than one. She doesn't initially realize that he's blind, but once she does it doesn't seem to matter. He's cute with a great personality. She can't help falling for him. (The idea of free massages for life helped push her along I'm sure.) They have dinner, take a few walks and eventually sleep together. She tells a friend that she actually feels like he's getting to know the real Amy.


"Great. I'm blind and you're deaf. What a perfect pair."

Which is why I don't quite understand why she pushes him so hard to try to regain his sight. Great if something can be done to alleviate his handicap, but why make a federal case about it? He implies later on that she only fell for him because she thought he could be made whole, but that doesn't exactly hold water. She had no idea when they met that his eyesight could be restored. If she only wanted to seriously date seeing men, she would have slept with him – blind or not, he's still very attractive – and never called again. Of course, if she didn't push, we wouldn't have a second act to this movie. Are you beginning to see the problems?

Lucky for Virgil, he's a perfect candidate for this experimental surgery. Wanting more to please Amy than through any great desire on his part (see they're both at fault), he has the operation and it's a smashing success. Except for one thing. Having never seen before, his brain has no idea how to process the images he's seeing. Unless he uses his sense of touch, most of the time he has no concept of what he's looking at. This is an unexpected complication the doctors have no cure for. He'll just have to plod through and do the best he can. Amy is initially excited for Virgil. He'll finally get to lead a normal life. Unfortunately, now he's a regular person who has no idea how to behave in a seeing world. He doesn't know how to read or write, how to deal with his own reflection or how to interpret the myriad of expressions on Amy's face.

On the other hand, Amy is still forced to deal with a man who can't take care of himself. She wanted a relationship, not a full-time babysitting job. It's easy to see why she becomes annoyed with him, but I think she could have cut him a little more slack. Six weeks isn't a long time when the man spent 30 years in darkness. They slowly become emotionally distant from each other when they can't deal with the disappointment of their unmet expectations. Virgil's unexpected return to blindness is the last straw. He initially retreats to his old life, but soon realizes that he has more to offer and wants more out of life. Amy learns that she just needs to let things be what they are and even if they turn out different than she intended that doesn't make them any less wonderful.

I really wanted to like this movie, but it just didn't grab me like I thought it should. Sorvino and Kilmer get a little annoying at points and really lose their romantic chemistry once he's no longer blind. It's hard to root for them when they no longer have any passion for one another. If they don't care, why should we. I was kind of excited to see Kelly McGillis again, and then after watching her, I realized why she isn't acting more these days. As I said earlier the story isn't bad, it's just too long with no real emotional center. You're glad he can see, you just kind of wish you weren't actually along for the ride. If you have nothing better to do, you may not mind passing some time this way, but I wouldn't race out to see it either.


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