“Tango is a sad thought that can be danced.”
Dance is one of the main themes of this English version of a Theo Van Gogh film, a story of Don and Janna, a husband and wife grasping at straws to save their marriage and their lives after the death of their young daughter. The film stars Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci and was directed by Tucci. Much of the music comes from the Argentine tango tradition; poignant, passionate songs that are racked through with melancholy.
The tango was originally danced by prostitutes and cowboys in an Argentina where the gender balance was close to 100:1, men being the minority. Dancing the tango was one of the only ways for men to gain the attention of a woman. Similarly, the dance of taking on different characters is the only way Don and Janna have left to interact. By becoming someone else, they can mediate themselves and hold off the grief, for a time. The two leads dance frequently within the film, mirroring the overall dance between them as they go on a series of blind dates with one another in attempt to salvage their marriage. Much like dancers of the tango, the two journey together for a short while, then part ways once more.
The entire film takes place in three sets: a bar/restaurant operated by Don, a ballroom containing bumper cars, and a bathroom. The centrality of location serves to save money and to layer the scenes one on top of another, as Don and Janna return again and again to the same scene as different characters, returning to a game they’ve played for years in order to find away to interact while dancing around the elephant in the room: their daughter’s death.
Blind Date opens with Don performing a comedic magician act. Don is intentionally bad, with echoes of the clowning tradition. His routine is all about an act where everything goes wrong. It’s funny but ultimately sad, forshadowing the rest of the film. The reason for Don and Janna’s dates is explained in the narration by their dead daughter. She talks about her father’s relationship with magic and performance, and later on gives us the missing piece of information about her death.
Tucci and Clarkson both deliver moving performances, as people lost in a sea of grief, no longer able to meaningfully interact with one another. Far more is communicated in the spaces between their lines, the words unsaid and the dialogue of body language. For me, the primary appeal of the film is watching the grief play across their faces, the frustrations and disdain built up over years, and seizing upon the small moments of joy and connection between the two of them before it fades and the moment is lost, leaving behind two hurt people incapable of healing and moving on.
The scenes are framed by shots of personals adds that the pair place for one another, setting the terms for each ‘blind date’. The scenarios become increasingly more convoluted as the film goes on, from “Janna (Early 40-something sociable, fun, seeks sweet, honest man” to “Kind man, 50, seeks professional help from woman,” “Blind Man Seeks Sighted Mate” and finally “Woman seeks peace”.)
Monk star Tony Shalub was originally cast in the role of Don, but a production halt due to monetary restrictions delayed the film, leading Tucci to step in to the role himself. Van Gogh passed away before being able to re-make his films in English. The DVD contains few additional features, but the commentary track with Clarkson and Tucci is a revealing, intimate dialogue between the two leads. The commentary moves between their stories about the shooting of the film, the people in it, and the aspects of filmmaking and the actor’s craft.
Blind Date is not a date movie in any traditional sense of the term; it is better fitted for for those who believe that romance is best described as a flower that briefly blooms but ultimately rots, leaving behind only a memory that can never be recaptured. It’s a story about the inability of people to re-connect, of a broken family and people that have given up. Clarkson and Tucci are amazingly compelling, frequently hilarious, and hold your attention with detailed performances and great chemistry, even when that chemistry is a spoiled, painful one. This is worth seeing, but prepare to have your heart go through the wringer.