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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The New Age
The New Age
Fox Cinema Archives // R // February 23, 2016
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 15, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Peter (Peter Weller) and Katherine Witner (Judy Davis) have plenty -- high-paying jobs, an incredibly expensive upper-class Southern California home, each other -- but deep down, neither one of them is happy. One day, completely independently of each other, both of them give up on their jobs, and instead of panicking, they throw a party, where it becomes clear to both of them that neither one is particularly happy, and that both of them have cheated. Instead of simply getting a divorce, however, they decide to do something more "enlightened": stay married, keep on living together, but take a break from the relationship, having their affairs in the open while they turn their teamwork to finding a new line of work that will support and satisfy both of them.

Or something like that. Although it contains a number of intriguing and even incredibly successful moments, The New Age feels like a rough draft, a big pile of ideas that haven't yet come together into something cohesive. Written and directed by Michael Tolkin, the film generates a sense of cinematic whiplash as plots start and stop, each new scene pulling the film in a slightly different direction. Is this a story lampooning mid-'90s California mysticism? A Jerry Maguire-like story about a couple who want to reject a certain kind of empty cynicism but find themselves struggling with their own inexperience actually working for a living? Or maybe it's the story of a married couple who are fighting desperately to find some sort of happiness with each other, even if their methods are wildly unconventional?

At the party, Peter is startled into action by Jean Levy (Patrick Bauchau), some sort of mystic or psychic who informs Peter that Katharine is not only convinced he's cheating on her, which he is, but is about to do so herself, with Misha (Bruce Ramsay), a younger man who owns a coffee shop. Jean mentions a spiritual retreat that might help clear the air, and after some tough but heartfelt conversations the next morning where Peter and Katharine both confess their infidelity, it seems like a set-up for the retreat, on which they'd pick up philosophies that'd be the catalyst for the rest of the film. Instead, they agree on the spot to let one another live their separate lives for awhile, and Jean Levy helps guide them toward something else: a high-end fashion store called Hipocracy where the stock is always revolving. Tolkin provides the following information, in this order: 1) Peter and Katherine actually work really well together and are genuinely excited as they are figuring out what their store should be and how it will work, 2) their prices are so outrageous they're practically extortion, 3) the business just might work out for them, and 4) then, suddenly, they have no customers. Peter and Katharine are likable together, which suggests we should root for them to be happy even if they are a bit glib and oblivious, but the audience's ability to root for those things is undercut by those same qualities. In theory, that could be funny, but in execution, it's merely frustrating.

Without a clear idea of how Tolkin hopes the viewer will feel about the characters one way or another, the film's pacing falls apart. There are hints that Peter is less sympathetic, less of a good person than Katharine is, but then Tolkin will include a scene such as the one where Peter vents his actual frustrations, explaining the reasons he wishes he could just kill himself, and (despite the fact that he's in a boutique clothing store he opened by selling some of a massive art collection) there's some sincere hopelessness that feels authentic and relatable. Both characters basically reject the "new age" mysticism of the title, and ultimately decide that their experiment with extramarital affairs isn't all that satisfying, but then they end up going on the aforementioned retreat nearly an hour and a half after it was first mentioned in the film, where Tolkin turns around and makes Peter less sympathetic, once again.

Still, there are a couple of bright spots in The New Age. The pairing of Adam West and Peter Weller as father and son is a legitimate stroke of genius, and the fact that West has almost nothing to do in the film is almost irrelevant next to the joy of seeing them act together. Davis also makes for a fascinating lead, turning in a slightly off-kilter, consistently fascinating performance that helps keep the movie alive even as the script is faltering. And there's the home stretch, in which Peter is forced into a position he's very uncomfortable with. Although the scene contains the same ambiguity that hampers the rest of the film (the film presents a morally complex situation that Tolkin seems to have no viewpoint on), it's executed with visual flair, some of Weller's best acting work in the movie, and a spectacular cameo appearance by Samuel L. Jackson. The only problem is, the movie's just about over -- another potentially fascinating hook The New Age doesn't have time or interest in actually exploring.

The New Age arrives on MOD DVD with its poster art intact, featuring Davis and Weller inside a shopping bag with the title written on it. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (the nice kind with no holes in it), and the art is inkjet printed on semi-thick cardstock.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, I'm afraid fans of the film who have been waiting for years to see the movie get a DVD release aren't going to be very impressed by the results. The New Age looks pretty murky thanks to an obviously dated transfer, rife with print damage, featuring fading colors, persistent softness, and a bit of banding. From time to time, in medium or close-up shots, the PQ is passable, but the years between a hypothetical 1998 DVD release date and now have not yielded any difference in the image being offered. The 2.0 stereo track is fine but not particularly crisp or rife with any real directional effects. No subtitles or captions of any kind have been included.

The Extras

Although I found the movie unfocused and unsatisfying as a whole, The New Age has some fascinating scenes and ideas, which have rightfully earned it a small but devoted audience. It's a shame that their wishes for a DVD haven't been met with more effort. Fans of the film might be able to convince themselves this dated presentation is worth the higher price of an MOD DVD, but everyone else should rent it.

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