Flesh and Bone Redux

She rises slowly from a giant cake, white lace billowing behind her, as a bar full of Texas cowhands raise the roof in a frenzy of anticipation. As their chanting reaches fever pitch, she promptly passes out. Collapsing from the cake in a whiskey-induced stupor. She hadn’t even taken off her hat, never mind her costume. The bubble of anticipation has burst and the boys slowly drift away to drown their disappointment in beer. It’s quite an entrance, certainly not the traditional Meg Ryan “meet cute,” of I.Q. or Prelude to a Kiss. This is how Meg crosses paths with her then-husband Dennis Quaid in 1993’s Flesh and Bone.Quaid plays Arlis Sweeney, a hard-working loner, who has the concessions for his county’s jukeboxes and vending machines. Arlis visits the same towns, eats the same food, sleeps in the same beds, then starts all over again. Tonight he’s the man on the spot, entrusted with helping drunk exotic dancer Kay.All of this may sound a little raunchy and ribald for your typical mid-90’s Meg Ryan movie. The girl next door has gone grungy. Flesh and Bone is hard-bitten, stark, laconic, sinister and sun-dried. A dark tale of fate, guilt, love and family. Film Soleil is the genre. Think of an early Coen Brothers’ film with big stars. In 1993 they didn’t come much bigger than Meg and Dennis.Their divergent acting styles really work for this story. Quaid plays stoic like he was born to it. Meg is talkative, although brittle and more sultry than usual. It’s the kind of film where portentous dialogue announces, “Storm’s coming, I can feel it.”Most of the menace is supplied by James Caan, as Arlis’ father Roy, an ornery drifter who murders a family in the film’s first scene. His presence looms over proceedings throughout. Gwyneth Paltrow appears in a supporting performance as a grifter who is mixed up with Caan’s ruthless father figure. She spices up the final act, and has an interesting chemistry with Ryan in their scenes together.Flesh and Bone features beautifully shot West Texas scenery, and even a few moments of offbeat, deadpan humour, like when hungover Meg wakes up, still wearing half of her stripper outfit, with the words Boo Boo spelt out over her breasts. When Arlis asks, “Boo Boo?” She stretches out the oversized bra to reveal the hidden “M” on the end of each word, with a weary, “story of my life.”I love how Ryan sports a black eye for much of Flesh and Bone, and her tears at the end of the film tear my heartstrings asunder. Released in the same year as Sleepless in Seattle, Flesh and Bone is a reminder that Meg Ryan could do more than play cute and bubbly. It’s a shame it passed almost unseen.

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