The Linguini Incident, 1991

Following the death of David Bowie last month, many people are no doubt still rewatching films that he appeared or starred in. I’ve always paid close attention to the similarities in Bowie’s acting throughout his career. There’s an almost adorable sense of charm that I’d assume was fed by his neurotic and eclectic personality. These qualities shine and lend a certain edge to films like The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth, and The Hunger. Amidst these obvious examples, I had almost forgotten that the same can be said the lesser-known flick The Linguini Incident.

The movie is a contemporary screwball comedy that fits the formula to a T. It’s female-driven, features a zany romantic plot that emphasizes silliness over sentiment, and has a love triangle. The dialog is choppy and awkward and the jokes are suggestive without being offensive or crude. Unlike romantic comedies—the predecessor of screwball—films like this are refreshing because they bring laughs without manifesting cheap sentiment. In fact, there’s virtually nothing to be gained in the movie except for laughs and it’s completely merited.

Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction) plays Lucy, a young vivacious woman who’s obsessed with Houdini and wants to be an escape artist. She’s a waitress at a strange but chic restaurant called Dali. David Bowie stars as Monte, a suave yet slightly off-putting Englishman who’s the new bartender at Dali and a pathological liar. 

Both are desperate and in need of $10,000. Lucy needs the money to afford a very special item that directly correlates to her lifelong dream. Monte wants a green card. Thus his current ambition is to wed an American by the week’s end. He needs the money to pay the “going rate” for a woman to agree. He haplessly asks every waitress in the place. When up against Lucy, their rocky interaction inspires a “meet cute.”

The rest of the loopy plot has everything essential. The pace is languid and relentless. The circumstances are both charming and embarrassing, therefore non-threatening and easy to enjoy. Some of the most minute details in the movie have the power to bring waves of laughter. 

This is one of the reasons that screwball comedies were so successful. The audience was expected to find innuendo in the little details: a headline in a newspaper or a smart joke that alludes to something mature, for example. Who could forget, and not smile, at the tear down of the figurative Wall of Jericho in  It Happened One Night ? It was a great way to signal consummation during the Production Code era. The Linguini Incident has that same quality, achieved mostly by way of props.

There’s even a brief cameo by Iman. To understand the humor of her appearance in the film, you’d have to know that she and Bowie were dating or possibly even engaged at the time. Such pop culture references in today’s comedies are often done with such excess and/or ease that it takes away a lot of the fun.

Once Lucy and Monte join forces and plan to rob the restaurant to get their much-needed funds, they realize they need a third person to assist. The two close in on the self-sacrificing Vivian who can’t seem to decline and adds a lot of hilarity to the caper.

The Linguini Incident is simple, and that’s what makes it so refreshing. The cast is obviously aware of the film’s silliness. If you go into it with that pretext, just about anyone can find it charming. 

There are several noteworthy actors in secondary roles, such as Buck Henry (The Graduate, Get Smart). For Bowie fans, I would say it’s also special as the film came during a big turning point in the artist’s life. Bowie stated in at least one interview that in The Man Who Fell to Earth, what the audience was seeing was very true to reality; he was a man coming undone and grappling with a sense of alienation.

I’d like to think that his personality and situation was always evident in his acting. If you’d agree, you’ll find an example here of someone who was finally feeling grounded. Enough to be playful and laugh at himself, which is very important. This also happens to be my favorite role of Arquette’s. She shines in one of the sweetest and most charming female roles that comes to mind. It’s refreshing, really.

 

Originally published for Amoeba Music’s “Movies We Like” blog, Feb. 4th, 2017

Director

Richard Shepard

 

“The simple plan is, no one in this room is going to have sex with anyone else in this room. We’ll be platonic…like our parents.”