’Purple Violets’ graces film festival

Where do you see yourself ten years after graduation? Will you have a successful job making you tons of money? Will you be married? Or will you feel lost and confused, wishing that you could relive your college years? Purple Violets, the brunch showing at the Williamstown Film Festival this past Sunday, explored all these possibilities and more through four old friends who want nothing more than to return to their college lives. On the surface, it seems that they all have their lives figured out. Patti is married, Kate is a teacher, Murph is a successful lawyer, and Brian is the author of bestseller detective novels. They begin to realize that they want something more when Patti and Kate, eating out at a restaurant to celebrate Kate’s birthday, happen to run into Brian and Murph, their college exes.

All four continually reference back to college as the golden days and wonder how so much time has passed by already. For instance, Brian’s 25-year-old girlfriend is an obvious cry for help. However, he is also the first one to make an attempt at his college dream, to write a serious piece of literature. The reviews are terrible and advise him to return to writing mysteries, as do his fans and friends. In his frustration, Brian mouths off to Murph about how no one wants to read serious literature anymore, a rather relevant diatribe given the current obsession with reality TV shows and other mindless fare. Murph, however, responds just like everyone else: “Don’t give me the ideas talk again!” Despite being his best friend and lawyer, Murph never even reads Brian’s new book.

Patti, on the other hand, does read it and goes to a book signing event to see Brian again. In college, Patti planned on being a writer but stopped writing after publishing her first book. Brian urges her to start again, saying that part of the reason he broke up with her was because he was jealous of her talent. Ironically, her renewed desire to write stops her from immediately getting back together with Brian. The fact that Patti needs time to restart her writing career before diving into a relationship with Brian isn’t the response that the audience expects in a romantic comedy, but it makes Patti more realistic. Most normal human beings need time to process a renewal of old feelings, never mind the renewal of an old career as well.

There is also the small matter of Patti’s marriage that prevents her from rekindling her relationship with Brian right away. Patti is unhappily married to Chaz, an obnoxious British chef; they finally decided to take some time apart, but Chaz soon wants her back. Patti feels a marital obligation to at least have lunch with him and talk things over, but the date ends abruptly with Patti walking out and Chaz screaming, “Are you in love with him?” after her. This was the weakest scene of the movie, because Patti and Chaz’s relationship is the hardest to believe. They have been married for seven years, but it seems like they never really loved each other. I felt that their relationship was not developed enough to be convincing; I just wanted Chaz out of the picture as soon as possible so that Patti could reunite with Brian.

While Brian and Patti are the central couple, Murph and Kate provide some comic relief. They broke up in college after Murph went home in a taxi with another girl. Murph has since reformed his wild and crazy ways and tries every trick he has up his sleeve to meet up with Kate, claiming he just wants to make amends. Kate refuses to talk to him and tells him that he’ll scare the children when he shows up at her school repeatedly. Although Kate’s terse rejections of Murph’s attempts are funny at first, you come to realize that Kate was seriously hurt by the breakup and that she still hasn’t forgiven him. These two represent the positive changes that can occur after college; Murph has become more responsible, and Kate eventually learns to give him a second chance.

The film, directed by Ed Burns, is a romantic comedy, but manages to escape being the irrelevant fluff that Brian is so tired of. The foursome turn in convincing performances, especially Selma Blair as the complicated Patti and Ed Burns himself as the charming Murph. The backdrop of New York City, however, outshines them all. The scenes of Central Park in autumn, taxi cabs in the rain, and empty apartments with stunning views of the Hudson evoke the city in all its glory. And what better evokes New York than a couple of financially successful but emotionally lost thirty-somethings?