Sometimes when you’re grieving, you just need a little vacation. A change in scenery, whether you really want it or accidentally land in it. Hell, you might just decide to stay.
Macon (William Hurt) and his wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner) tragically lost their twelve year old son, Ethan, a year ago and it’s been wedging them apart. After Macon arrives home from one of his travels for work, Sarah tells him that she wants to divorce. That’s a change in scenery. Macon meets Muriel (Geena Davis), a dog trainer who shows strange interest in him. He ignores her and tries to get along by himself in their house, but when the dog causes him to break his leg, he moves in with his siblings for a while. Now we’re in a whole new place. Macon calls Muriel to help him train his dog and his publisher comes looking for him, not knowing about the accident. Soon, his publisher is dating his sister and he’s spending more and more time with Muriel, not always with the dog. Things keep progressing and Macon has moved in with Muriel and taken an interest in her son’s education, but when he sees Sarah again, he has second thoughts.
Macon’s job is to travel around the world and write books on how to travel without feeling out of place in strange places. Perfect for an unemotional guy who doesn’t seem to connect with anyone around him. No matter who he’s talking to Macon keeps a detached, explanatory tone, as if he’s typing out the next chapter in his book. Even when he’s on the verge of tears being held by Muriel he’s still explaining calmly about his son and why he’s so withdrawn.
By contrast, the only reason Macon ever gets together with Muriel is her over-eagerness to be with him. At first there’s a push and pull between them, and Muriel overthrows Macon into phone calls, personal obedience lessons, dinner and keeps progressing. She’s so friendly it bubbles and calls him off the cuff just to talk after they’ve barely met. It’s a genuine and flawless performance by Davis and she takes the Oscar for it.
Now, it’s hard to tell if the story is muddled around the idea or the idea gets muddled into the story. The whole metaphor of becoming an accidental tourist and traveling without touching a culture is brilliantly portrayed in Macon finding Muriel. But towards the end the story goes too back and forth and doesn’t let the idea shine through as brilliantly. At some points it shines through beautifully and perfect, and then stuff happens that fogs it over, like throwing mud on freshly cleaned stained glass. The wonderful idea is here, I swear, it just feels like we have to dig through a story that needlessly changes directions.