For Love of Ivy (January 19/04)
For Love of Ivy is essentially a generic romantic comedy, except it's not all that funny nor is it even particularly romantic. The film's thin premise is stretched as far as it can go, and it's the charisma of leading man Sidney Poitier that makes it as watchable as it is.
Ivy (played by Abbey Lincoln) works for the Austin family - which includes dad Frank (Carroll O'Connor) and son Tim (Beau Bridges) - but is planning to quit in order to gain more freedom and possibly meet a husband. This doesn't sit well with the kids, who set out to find a good man for Ivy - and, as a result, prevent her from leaving. Enter Jack Parks (Sidney Poitier), a well-to-do businessman who runs a legitimate operation during the day and an illegal gambling outfit at night. Jack isn't too keen on dating a housekeeper, so the Austin children decide to blackmail Jack into going out with Ivy.
Poitier actually came up with the For Love of Ivy's story, so it's probably safe to assume that this is a film with special meaning for the actor. But the movie never becomes the touching romance that he surely wanted it to be, primarily because there's not much of interest going on here. Since even the most dense audience members have figured out that Jack and Ivy will wind up together by the time the end credits roll, the movie needs to have other subplots to keep us entertained. Aside from a look at Jack's illicit gambling rig (literally; he uses elaborately designed trucks to keep his mini casino on the move), the film focuses almost entirely on Ivy and her day-to-day lifestyle.
And that's the problem. Ivy's just not a very compelling character - a dilemma that's exacerbated by Lincoln's underwhelming performance. It comes as no surprise that Lincoln was a veteran of Broadway by the time she landed the role of Ivy, as her acting style is incredibly theatrical and over-the-top. This is especially disconcerting and noticeable during her scenes with Poitier, who gives an expectedly subtle performance. In fact, it's Poitier who keeps the whole thing afloat with his seemingly effortless charm; it's easy enough to wish the film was called For Love of Jack.
Still, the movie is effective as a snapshot of 1968 - check out Bridges' hippie wardrobe - and Poitier's always a pleasure to watch, even when the story surrounding him isn't exactly captivating.