Tune in Tomorrow... Review

1951. Would-be writer Martin Loader (Keanu Reeves) works in the newsroom for WXBU Radio, “The Voice of New Orleans”. Faced with falling ratings for their serial Kings of the Garden District, the serial hires legendary scriptwriter Pedro Carmichael (Peter Falk). Meanwhile, Martin’s aunt (by marriage) Julia (Barbara Hershey) returns home and Martin falls in love with her. Soon Pedro finds out about this and starts lifting more and more material from real life for his radio drama, which is disconcerting to say the least…

Tune in Tomorrow… was adapted by William Boyd from Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. The film bore the latter title in the cinema in the UK and previous video releases, but reverts to the American title for this DVD. It’s noticeable that Boyd and director Jon Amiel haven’t gone down the overly-literary Miramax route. Instead they play the story for broad farce. How well this represents Vargas Llosa’s novel I don’t know as I haven’t read it, but as he is one of the leading exponents of magic realism I’d expect the interplay between reality and fiction would have more resonance there than it does here. Amiel does get to juggle various levels of (un)reality as he did when he made the original TV series of The Singing Detective - we get dramatisations of Kings of the Garden District throughout the film, with such notables as Peter Gallagher and Elizabeth McGovern in the cast – but to considerably less effect. For all the talent on display, this is ultimately a comedy too quirky and literary for a mass audience. Although it keeps you watching for an hour and three quarters, it can’t help but give off a faint sense of pointlessness.

There are plenty of compensations though. Robert Stevens’s camerawork and Jim Clay’s production design are first-rate. Wynton Marsalis’s jazz score makes you wish this DVD could play it in isolation. Boyd’s script is uneven: every now and again something fails to work, such as the station boss’s name alternating between Sam and Sid. The lurid (and racist) Albanian jokes that Pedro persistently adds to his scripts become wearing after a while. Barbara Hershey was an actress whose career blossomed, in an exception to the usual rule, after she passed forty. Importantly, she is still beautiful, which makes the potentially distasteful subject matter of aunt-nephew romance quite palatable. Reeves is not the most expressive of actors by any means, but he’s directed well here and he and Hershey work well together. Also importantly to the film, he has a fresh-faced handsomeness that helps explain Martin’s attraction to an older woman. However, Peter Falk steals the film. Dressed in a false moustache and a hat, he gets all the best lines and he makes a meal of them. He’s a major reason why the film is as watchable as it is.

This MGM release seems to have come from an American source as it’s a slightly different version to the film that played in Britain as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. The opening credits are read over the radio by Henry Gibson, and when I saw this film in the cinema in 1991 he read the title as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. On this DVD release he reads out the American title. (Both versions have Tune in Tomorrow… as the printed title in the end credits.) There may be other changes: if any come to light I’ll update this review. The film played with a 12 certificate in British cinemas, for several sexual references. The BBFC, presumably feeling they had been too lenient first time round, upped it to a 15 for its first video release and a 15 it remains. The DVD is encoded for both Regions 2 and 4.

The transfer is in the correct 1.85:1 ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Robert Stevens’s camerawork goes for a Fifties look, all bold, vibrant colours and strong shadows. Blacks are solid and I didn’t spot any undue artefacting. Very acceptable.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, surround-encoded. Much of the film comes through the centre channel, with the surrounds left over for the music score and some directional sound effects. A notable example of the latter is the explosion in the opening sequence. There are dubbed versions in several languages, all surround-encoded except the monophonic Spanish track. Unusually, there’s a Polish-language track, which consists of a Polish voiceover over the mixed-down original English dialogue.

There are the usual sixteen chapter stops and no extras, not even a trailer.

Whatever title it goes under, this film is a diverting comedy, if a little too quirky for a mass audience. MGM’s DVD is certainly very decent but is once again absolutely bare-bones.

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