Twister (DVD)

Released in 1990, Twister had the misfortune of being distributed by the comically hapless studio Vestron. But even if it hadn't been, its commercial prospects would seem limited at best: A film whose most saleable element is a classic Crispin Glover performance isn't likely to challenge the Jerry Bruckheimer productions of the world. The feature-length directorial debut of Michael Almereyda (Nadja, the Ethan Hawke Hamlet), Twister centers on a Midwestern family whose patriarch's wealth allows its members to spend their days indulging their eccentricities. A perfectly cast Harry Dean Stanton stars as a laconic businessman whose brilliant but rudderless children (Glover and Suzy Amis) have become adults without bothering to grow up or leave the nest. As a twister rages through the heartland, the father of Amis' daughter (Dylan McDermott) tries to win Amis back, while Glover tries to convince his family that he's getting married and Stanton brings home a strident Christian girlfriend who hosts a noxious children's show. Like the Beales in Grey Gardens, the family in Twister seems locked together in an endless cycle of dysfunction greased by the crushing force of inertia. Glover and Amis' cries for attention tend to be shouts of despair, both because the competition for their father's attention is so fierce and because Stanton is so unflappable. In the wrong hands, or with a different cast, such quirky material could easily have devolved into a grotesque parade of cartoon freaks. But Almereyda finds exactly the right tone: a loopy, understated deadpan that invites empathy rather than ridicule. Twister has the outline of a broad comedy, but the inspired cast–particularly Amis–brings such conviction to its performances that the drama registers as strongly as the comedy. Still, though it's a winning little sleeper, Twister might just be too low-key to inspire the sort of over-the-top enthusiasm that engenders a cult following. It's so lightweight and minor that a strong gust of wind might carry it away.

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