New Orleans, 1981. Sonny Phillips, just discharged from the Army, returns home where the only life he's known is as a gigolo working for his mother. He wants to leave that behind, but the job his Army buddy promised doesn't materialize, and he can't escape his past. Written by
Jon Reeves <email@example.com>
The truths explored in `Sonny' are not easily accessible to those who have never faced the choice that faces Sonny Phillips: whether to `square up,' or continue in a life style with extremely limited options, and little room for growth. Many who are born into a life of prostitution never seriously consider leaving it, most who have never experienced that life style are unaware of the dishonesties and injustices inherent in living on their more socially-acceptable middle-class level. The story sums up neatly: Sonny comes home after a stint in the army with the goal of leaving behind his former life style as a male prostitute. His mother, Jewel, who turned him out when he was twelve years old, now lives off of Carol, a beautiful young whore who has Sonny's old bedroom. Jewel wants to keep Sonny with her, and have him work as a team with Carol.
Somehow, 26-year-old James Franco is able to tap into a wellspring of emotional depth to show the anguish attendant in the decision Sonny tries to make and honor. Somehow, Nicolas Cage was able to lead him to it. What these two have accomplished should not be overlooked or undervalued. `Sonny' is a magnificent achievement. It is a movie that explores many themes, paramount among them that each of us is worthy of love, capable of innocence and growth. Real affection can be found in the unlikeliest of places, respect shows itself in many ways, trust is fragile, and love doesn't protect anyone from anything. Franco's performance could be considered nothing short of miraculous, if it weren't known how hard-working an actor he is. This range of talent hasn't been seen since 1955; his slight frame belies his power, and his smile is an endearing joy. Mena Suvari, as his love-interest, Carol, is also an unexpected delight, bringing to mind nothing so much as Carroll Baker's performance in `Baby Doll.' Her combination of innocence and sexuality is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's, and it's nice that someone is on the scene to keep that flame alive. Also noteworthy is Brenda Vaccaro as Meg, an old trick of Sonny's who's eager to spend time with him again. She brings a warmth and generosity to a role that could seem ludicrous in a lesser actress. Not least among all these terrific talents is Brenda Blethyn as Sonny's mother Jewel. Although her southern accent seems questionable, it's difficult to think of another actress who could make someone who's done something this despicable to her child, seem genuine and likable. As her friend, Harry Dean Stanton also pulls off something unexpected, bringing depth of character to someone whose occupation as a shoplifter could otherwise lead us to think of as shallow. But it is a director's vision that pulls a movie together, and Nicolas Cage is to be heartily and enthusiastically commended for what he's accomplished here. `Sonny' is a wonderful movie.
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