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Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love is the title of a sleeper comedic film released in 2002. The film follows Grace Beasley who in the face of her failing marriage, and the death of her favorite pop star, learns the value and limitations of unconditional love, and the evils of sexism and homophobia. The film was directed by P.J. Hogan who also contributed to the final script.

Plot summary

Grace Beasley has been content to live an unseen life as an upper-middle class housewife living in an apartment high above the city of Chicago with her husband, a successful lawyer named Max. As the film begins, Grace awakens to cook her husband breakfast and watch a television morning show on which her favorite singer, Victor Fox, is being interviewed. Fox's easy listening music about old-fashioned romantic love has made him the idol of millions of middle-aged women across the globe, and when he announces a special Christmas Chicago concert, Grace quickly dials the television station and becomes one of the first five callers to win a free ticket that will put her in the front row. She screams with joy to her husband that she won the concert, but he only says that they need to discuss their marriage.

Max politely announces that he is having a mid-life crisis and is moving out because he needs to have a more exciting life. Grace is so crushed that her marriage is ending, that she hangs up on the television station before they could get her name and address. She tries to console herself by having lunch at a mall cafe with her outspoken dwarf daughter-in-law, Maudey, only to learn that Grace's son, Andrew, has walked out on Maudey and their baby because he is afraid of just about everything, including growing up.

At the cafe, Grace notices that the waitresses never see her, while Maudey replies that people always see her and thus the film's social commentary about how people need to be loved, seen and respected is made explicit.

Grace decides that if she can get a ticket to the Fox concert then Max will see her on television and their marriage will be saved. Grace calls the television station, explains her situation, and an extra ticket arrives in the mail. At the concert, Grace takes a front row seat with a group of ethnically diverse, middle-aged women who accept her as a fellow fan. However, an announcer informs them that Victor has been delayed and thus the concert will have to be rescheduled. Saddened that her chance to save her marriage has failed, Grace goes to the grocery store to buy some food (where the aisles have products for sale that all look the same), only to faint when the radio, playing a Fox song as background music in the store, announces that Fox's body has been found in the underground parking lot, that just happens to be the parking lot for Grace's apartment. The police suspect that Victor was killed by the mysterious "Cross Bow Killer" who had been linked to the murder of some homeless people living in the underground parking lot.

Maudey has to drive Grace home and once in the parking lot, they visit the site where Victor's body was found, amidst a mob of police, television reporters and sobbing middle-aged women. Deciding to have a drink at a nearby pub, they discover that this was the same bar where Fox was drinking the night that he died and that the last thing that he said to the bartender was, "A life lived in fear is not much fun." Acting on this motto, Grace decides to fly to Fox's British small town to attend his funeral and thus through this crazy stunt, prove to Max that his mid-life crisis does not have to end in their divorce.

On the flight to England, Julie Andrews has a cameo as the person sitting in the seat next to Grace who comforts the other passengers during a turbulent storm by getting them all to sing, "Getting To Know You."

In the small town, Grace soon begins to learn that not everything as it seems. Fox's loyal valet, Dirk Simpson is living in the late celebrities house, and slams the door on Grace who has become interested in this rude man because his advertisement about Fox's death in the local paper reminded Grace how much she loves Max, unconditionally, even through he had belittled her dreams and aspirations.

After Dirk slams the door, a new one is opened as Grace dines with Fox's sisters and family lawyer, who mistake her for someone from Victor's record company. They show her childhood pictures of Fox, some of which show a young Fox dressing up in female clothing, and explain that Dirk is a no-good lowlife that is spreading slanderous lies that he and Victor had been involved in "perverse sexual relations" for over ten years, and thus Victor would have wanted Dirk to have his cottage. When the sisters discover that Grace is a mere housewife and a fan, they shun her, but the family lawyer sees an opportunity and offers to compensate Grace if she can persuade Simpson to "let go and move on" and agree to a large cash settlement for his silence.

Instead, Grace makes a long distance call home to Max, who has been chatting with Maudey, Andrew and the Beasley's daughter about putting Grace in an asylum. Max threatens to sell off their material possessions to pay for Grace's "vacation," but eventually Max and Andrew advise Grace that Dirk would need proof of his relationship with Victor in order to make a valid claim on the cottage. Grace then sneaks onto the cottage property where she proceeds to mow the lawn, and cut wood for the heater in order to prove that she only wants to help Dirk out. Dirk (who has two lazy gay men living with him and giving out advice) eventually invites Grace inside and tells her that Victor's family members are snotty homophobes who had Victor institutionalized when he came out as being gay as a teenager and then disowned him soon afterwards.

Fox sisters want Victor's cottage in order to turn it into a memorial that will preserve the lie that he was a heterosexual. Through their conversations, Grace also learns that Fox frequently cheated on Simpson with other men (and therefore may have been in the Chicago underground looking for a one-night stand); thus the two characters develop a bond based upon their shared experiences of mistreatment by the men in their lives, and relegation to the invisible roles of housewife and valet. Yet, Dirk never gave up loving Victor, just as Grace still loves Max, because they base their marriages on the principle of unconditional love. In other words, Dirk and Grace each love their significant other, in spite of the fact that their significant other mistreats them and belittles their dreams and aspirations.

Grace persuades Dirk to sneak out of the cottage. Fox's sisters have men waiting outside to grab Dirk and change the locks. At a local pub, where the patrons drink a toast to Victor, Grace and Dirk decide that they need to return to Chicago and track down the serial killer, but not before putting the Fox sisters in their place.

Grace and Max talk their way into the local morgue and change Victor's burial clothing into a pink robe that Victor often wore in defiance of his family. Thus as Grace and Max arrive in the Chicago airport, the television stations are covering the funeral, again with a cameo by Julie Andrews. The stoic Fox sisters scream when they see the open casket, and this prompts the reporters to make a mad dash to the coffin. Julie Andrews attempts to calm things down, but a fight breaks out anyway and Victor is outed posthumously.

In Chicago, Grace takes Dirk to her apartment where they find it dark and empty. The next day Maudey is thrilled to see that Grace has returned and shows off her small handgun that the trio can use to hunt down the Cross Bow Killer, after they practice using it in the underground parking lot.

In the underground parking lot, the trio runs into a group of homeless people who have had several of their friends killed by the Cross Bow Killer and are not the dangerous and lowlife people that everyone else seems to think that they are. Yet, when middle class people wander around the underground parking lot, people notice and the three are arrested by the police. Maudey is charged with carrying a concealed weapon and Max and Andrew have to pick up their wives at the police station.

Max and Grace reconcile their marriage as do Maudey and Andrew. Everyone has gotten what they wanted, except Dirk who continues to live alone in Max and Grace's former apartment, pondering why the serial killer targets the homeless and celebrities. Grace and Maudey realize, as does Dirk, that the Cross Bow Killer targets anyone that sings in the underground and thus the trio reunite in the parking lot in time to run into the masked Cross Bow Killer. Yet, in a final twist of fate, the serial killer takes off his mask and is revealed to be lonely twenty-something working class man that washes the upper-middle class apartment dwellers windows.

At the beginning of the film, Max explains his midlife crisis to Grace through an upper-middle class man romanticizing working class life as being exciting and authentic. As each character in the film helps propel the film's criticism of meanness and social injustice, the unmasked serial killer represents the lonely, mistreated and unloved younger generation and the working class. Thus while the Cross Bow Killer lashes at anyone who sings in the underground because it reminds him of his mother (who is either dead or has disowned him), his character also serves to propel the film's left-wing political commentary.

Grace, Dirk and Maudey try to soothe the Cross Bow Killer with a Victor Fox song, but the young man turns violent when he notices that the costume Dirk is wearing has Victor Fox's initials on it. The trio flee to a raising bridge, and after Dirk is hit by the killer's arrow in the arse, Maudey knocks the serial killer off the bridge with a cell phone, where he falls to his death onto a boat party of a wealthy socialite. Dirk is rushed to the hospital, and Grace calls Max to inform him that she is no longer willing to base their marriage on unconditional love. Max replies that he is not sure if he can be different, but that he respects Grace and her career ambitions.

The film ends with the trio being celebrated on Sally Jesse Raphael's talk show as celebrities that have tracked down the serial killer. Dirk announces, with Fox's sisters sitting in the audience, that he is turning Fox's home into a halfway house for gay youth who are kicked out of their homes by their bigoted parents. Maudey reports that a cell phone company is having her sponsor their new line of phones. Finally, after all is said and done, Max appears in the audience and asks for Grace to start her singing career right now on national television. Celebrity Barry Manilow walks onto the stage and joins Grace in a song (soon accompanied by everyone) that sums up the major political message of the film: in life we all belong to the human race and must respect the human rights and human dignity of all men, women and children.

Criticism

The film was shot in late 1999 and early 2000 in Chicago and England, but New Line Cinema continually postponed the American release, leaving the film on the shelf until finally premiering it on the Starz network in August 2003 and then sending it direct-to-DVD that October. The film has generally received mixed reviews from film critics who often ignore the film's political commentary and simply see it as a quirky or poorly written comedy.

Christopher Mull wrote, "It's a sloppy mishmash of stories...none of which stand on their own and which crash disastrously when combined. Bates comes off as dippy and distant. Everett comes of [sic] as mean and crusty. Pryce is just inexplicable with a gray pompadour and blue sequins. And Manilow rocks. Er..." Film Critic 2002

Jason Bovberg had slightly kinder things to say about the film. "As a dark comedy, Unconditional Love can be occasionally effective. There are a few moments in this film that had me laughing quite hysterically. Merely the sight of Jonathan Pryce shuffle-dancing through clouds over the opening credits loads the film with promise. And Meredith Eaton as Maudey steals every scene she's in. But in the end, you can't escape the fact that Bates has difficulty carrying this movie and in fact, doesn't seem to really understand the type of film she's in." DVD Talk

DVD

The film is available on DVD and includes the film's trailer, and the ability to view a deleted scene which many critics felt should have remained in the film. Fans of the film are hoping for the release of a special edition DVD that includes an audio commentary to explain the film's political commentary.

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