"Waking the Dead"

Cut scenes reveal the site of Jennifer Connelly's teenage longing and other pieces of this lyrical, ghostly and sometimes lackadaisical love story.

Published February 13, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"Waking the Dead"
Directed by Keith Gordon
Starring Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Hal Holbrook, Janet McTeer
USA Home Entertainment; widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director's commentary, deleted scenes

Good movies always, of course, stand on their own. But one of the great things about DVD technology is that it can sometimes make you appreciate the small, good things in a movie that overall doesn't have a whole lot to recommend it. Keith Gordon's "Waking the Dead," based on the Scott Spencer novel, tells the story of an ambitious, rather straight-arrow congressional hopeful (Billy Crudup) who's suddenly haunted by visions of his lefty activist girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) who died 10 years earlier. Crudup and Connelly are charming, intuitive actors who take dialogue that might otherwise be wooden ("I don't want to see you turn into a cog in their machine," Connelly advises Crudup at one point) and make it breathe.

But in trying to spin a lyrical and ghostly love story, Gordon allows the narrative to unfold too lackadaisically. He also hammers too loudly on the contrast between the freewheeling do-gooder altruism of Connelly's character and the stony conventionality of Crudup's. The point, ultimately, is that Connelly is capable of changing Crudup's life even beyond the grave, and we see it coming a mile away.

But even though Gordon hasn't delivered what I'd call a particularly well-made movie, in his commentary he talks about it so intelligently and openly that he made me feel kindlier toward it. The love scenes between Connelly and Crudup are so intimate they speak for themselves, but what Gordon says about them enhances rather than diminishes them. He explains that there are some significant autobiographical elements to "Waking the Dead," in that he drew on his relationship with his own wife in adapting Spencer's novel to the screen. "When you really love someone and they truly become part of your life, it almost doesn't matter whether they're there or not ... When someone has changed you, [whether they're] dead or alive, they're alive" -- meaning that the changes they've wrought are a kind of life unto themselves.

The deleted scenes included on the DVD are also revelatory. Most of them probably don't belong in the movie -- in fact, "Waking the Dead" probably could have used even more trimming. But one of these scenes in particular serves as an affecting curlicue to the picture, a whisper of an explanation about the main characters' relationship that gives it some additional depth. In this scene, Connelly shows Crudup her room at her parents' house in Kentucky; it's exactly as she left it, filled with dolls and books and other relics of her girlhood. She describes her life in that room, alluding to long nights of restless adolescent sexual longing, finally explaining, "It was all my way of waiting for you." It's a gorgeously tender passage that probably would have enhanced the movie. But as a moment between characters, and between actors, it manages to live a perfectly self-contained and sweet existence outside of it.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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