…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
The title of 1992’s Love Field refers to the airport in Dallas at which John and Jacqueline Kennedy’s plane arrived on that ill-fated day of November 22, 1963. It is also where this movie’s narrative begins. Dallas housewife Lurene Hallett, played expertly by a bleach-blonde coiffed Michelle Pfieffer in her second nominated role, has lived her life fascinated with the Kennedys – and has brought her wheelchair-bound neighbor with her to the airport to be a part of the Kennedys’ reception line. Sadly, Lurene misses her chance to shake Jackie Kennedy’s hand, but after President Kennedy’s assassination occurs, she vows not to miss the opportunity to pay what she feels are only due respects to a family she has long admired.
As Lurene embarks on her journey to Washington to Kennedy’s funeral, little does she know that she is setting off on an adventure that will reveal to her the hatred and prejudice of human nature (we are talking the early 1960’s South here, bear in mind). She takes off from Dallas onboard a bus (against her husband’s wishes), and befriends a rather silent and withdrawn African American man named Paul Cater (Dennis Haysbert) and his equally quiet 5 year-old daughter, Jonell (Stephanie McFadden). Lurene is quirky, sweet, and unabashedly kind to the pair, despite the occasional glances of distaste from the people around them. It is almost as if, for Lurene, there is no color issue – she is simply caring and friendly, and Pfieffer portrays this naive color-blindness naturally.
As the trip goes on, she comes to realize that things aren’t as they seem with this traveling father and daughter. She finds out that Paul is on the run, having taken his daughter from a state home where she was abused while in custody (her mother had died). What follows is an unconventional odyssey of sorts, in which Lurene runs from the authorities with Paul and Jonell, all the while anticipating making it to Washington, D.C. in time for Kennedy’s funeral. Make it there she does, but only after a myriad of difficult circumstances involving police in pursuit, a couple stolen cars as transportation, and a brief hideout at the home of a friend’s parents. As could be anticipated, Paul is subjected along the way to continuous prejudice and even downright abuse by locals for journeying with a white woman. Despite these troubles, Lurene and Paul forge a unique friendship, at first for the sake of innocent little Jonell, but finally, because they realize they are both fugitives from circumstances they ultimately have no control over. Paul is blindly trying to make life better for his little girl in a world that is disgusted by the color of their skin, and Lurene is struggling in a loveless marriage through which she lost a child and fabricated a Jackie Kennedy fantasy world of her own.
Pfieffer and Haysbert work wonderfully together in telling this story, and Stephanie McFadden breaks your heart as Jonell. Michelle Pfieffer was well-cast as Lurene. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of her finest performances; not strong enough to win the Oscar against that year’s well-deserving winner, Emma Thompson in Howards End, but it’s nice that she received this nomination for this little independent film. I was especially impressed with how the events of Kennedy’s assassination were rendered at the start of the film. There is a definite sense of time and place, and seeing the events unfold through the grieving of the actors – especially Pfieffer as Lurene – are very palpable and keenly felt. Pfieffer conveys with real honesty how Lurene’s sweet, almost overly optimistic dreams of the Kennedy Camelot are shattered by the brutal and inhumane events of both the assassination and how she sees African Americans (in her time) treated. The Kennedy story reverberates like a heartbeat beneath her story, which is perhaps why the film was titled as it was. Truly a moving film.