Impromptu (1991)  


Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Impromptu is a fictional story about a love affair between the authoress George Sands and Chopin, the brilliant composer. The word "impromptu" means spontaneous, unprepared, sporadic. It's a fitting title, since the film has that same kind of spontaneously which promises a great deal but fails to deliver. Plot lines trail off into overgrown fields with apparently no interest in continuing where the author left off. The only remotely good thing about the film is the acting by Hugh Grant (someday I'll have to see him in something where he's NOT a complete wimp), Bernadette Peters, and Emma Thompson.

George Sands (Judy Davis) is a masculine tomboy with a flair for writing and a taste for men. After a long string of lovers she's finally locked out her most recent fling -- the children's tutor -- and is seeking fresh blood. Desperate to be out of the house, she asks her publisher for an advance so she might escape Mallefille's unwanted attentions. Desperation drives her to accompany her friend the Baroness Marie D'Agoult (a married aristocrat living with her lover, another famous composer, played by Bernadette Peters) into the countryside, and the home of a would-be aristocrat with no taste or composure. She hopes primarily to be acquainted with Chopin (Hugh Grant), whose music has enthralled her. George claims that she has never felt the hand of God before, but through his wonderful music. Chopin in return is a reserved palsy sort of person with a severe cough, allergies, and an inept fear of just about everything. He's modest but confident, quiet in company, and terrified of the woman authoress who walks about in men's breeches and is known for leaving her lovers strewn in the lane like bodies after battle.

Things become complicated when Mallefille follows George to the country. Oh, yes, and then there's another of her former lovers... Alfred. Hoping to get on Chopin's good side, George writes him a beautiful piece of poetry and gives it to the baroness to pass on... little knowing that her friend has schemes of her own -- to keep the two apart. Through hunting accidents, the antics of the children, and the frantic tug of war behind cupid's magic bow, Impromptu gives us a humorous cast of characters and many fine predicaments. But it's also a poorly written piece, has briefly foul language, innuendo, and an immoral heroine. How can we root for her to win over the innocent Chopin when we know she's been with a dozen men a hundred times over?

The guests are rude and crass to their hostess (the painter apparently has a fling with her one night, although the writer seems to have forgotten that fact later, because they never so much as look at one another!), some of the jokes are in bad taste (like a horse being ridden into the house and dumping on George's manuscript) and the only delightful thing about it is the music, which you can find on any CD of Chopin. The baroness tries to keep them apart by flirting with Chopin, and telling him George has made a bet she can seduce him. Much ado is made about the fact that she left her husband for an artist (musician) and is engaged in adultery. Most of the innuendo is fairly subtle, but George and Alfred have a violent row in which he uses the f-word, and she screams back at him to return to London and his whores. (Using far more crude vernacular than I have.) Other profanity and mild abuse of deity crop up occasionally. 

There's a lot of talk about making love, seduction, and adultery. Chopin does eventually succumb to her charms -- at first he puts off her overtures by saying he doesn't trust his physical body, but we do see them curled up in bed together. Several times she throws herself at him and tries to pull off his coat. Another disappointing scene finds Emma Thompson's character, a married woman, being dragged into a room by the French painter, who passionately kisses her and puts his hand down her dress. Instead of rebuffing him, she returns with vigor and shoves him down onto a couch. A man is shot in the arm in a duel. A horse is put down after he falls in a hunt. (Unseen, just implied.) A dog bloodies up a woman's dress with a dead duck. Altogether a waste of time. Watch Daniel Deronda instead.