White Palace (1990)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 19, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

James Spader and Susan Sarandon have similar pairs of wide, soulful eyes, which make them look like they could be brother and sister rather than May-December lovers. Either way, something about it gives them a chemistry that's unmistakable in the romantic drama White Palace, whose title stands both for the burger joint where Sarandon's character works and the isolated yuppie fortress in which Spader lives (literally) and keeps his emotions imprisoned (figuratively). Luis Mandoki's film is a sparingly funny, mostly serious contemplation of the pain of loss, as well as accompanying fears of the abandonment that may punish the decision to lower one's emotional guard. Spader and Sarandon are just right for their roles, simultaneously tough and vulnerable, never quite trusting their happiness. Those that surround them are a little less fleshed out -- Eileen Brennan is a tad too saintly and spiritual as Sarandon's older sister, while Spader's nattering Jewish friends approach the realm of cruel stereotypes. Still, a clear impression emerges of the difficulty of maintaining a relationship when the two principals are separated by 16 years and very different cultural and educational backgrounds. The abuses of Sarandon's older character are realistically complex and painful. The ending seems like it might belong in a different movie, populated by more carefree characters, but Mandoki's direction is mostly subtle and humane, making for an intelligent film.