White Palace (1990) starring James Spader, Susan Sarandon, Jason Alexander, Kathy Bates, Eileen Brennan, Steven Hill, Rachel Chagall, Corey Parker directed by Luis Mandoki Movie Review

White Palace (1990)   4/54/54/54/54/5

James Spader and Susan Sarandon in White Palace (1990)

Miss Sarandon You Are Seducing Me

Looking at the DVD of "White Palace" you would expect from the image of James Spader about to kiss Susan Sarandon's cleavage that it is a movie full of steamy sex and erotic passion. And in a way you wouldn't be wrong because there are passionate sex scenes, a topless Susan Sarandon and a risque blow job scene but looking at "White Palace" as another movie which trades on memorable sex scenes is wrong. It's a clever movie, a wonderful love story which delves for realism as it focuses on the unlikely and troubled relationship between two people not only from different social classes but also who have an age gap between them.

Still struggling to move on from the death of his wife 2 years earlier, 27 year old Max (James Spader - Bad Influence) finds himself falling for 43 year old Nora (Susan Sarandon - Bull Durham) after a drunken encounter in a bar leads to a night of steamy passion. But their relationship is troubled from the start not just because of the age gap but because Nora works as a waitress whilst Max is a rich and successful accountant with equally rich friends who he is embarrassed to tell that he has a new older woman in his life.

Susan Sarandon as Nora Baker in White Palace (1990)

In a strange way "White Palace" is not that original as it covers that familiar ground of love across different social classes and as such there is something a little familiar to it. But then it couples this with the issues over an age gap making it feel more than your average romantic drama, especially as it delves into the fears which accompany this relationship predicament. What this means is on face value you have Max who although head over heels in love with this older woman who works as a waitress is embarrassed by her. But then it doesn't leave it at that because it also shows Nora's fears that because she is older and not wealthy like his friends that Max will suddenly leave her, protecting herself ready for that day. It's surprisingly realistic delivering these aspects in a fun but raw way that for anyone who has gone through a similar relationship will be able to recognize those feelings and fears.

"White Palace" does at times border on the contrived, the way they meet at the burger bar and then coincidentally meet again that same night just doesn't feel real. Nor does the ending which although to be frank is quite predictable feels more like an outtake from a blooper reel than a properly scripted scene. But then the contrived nonsense is lost in a clever script which has a natural believable progression. When the fastidiously clean Max gives Nora a dust buster as a present because he finds her home untidy it causes issues, but because Nora is in love with Max she sets about cleaning it, willing to change her ways. It's a simple almost innocuous scene but builds up the believability of their relationship as it progresses from being purely sexual to one of real love.

This brings me on to the erotic, sexual nature of "White Palace". Now whilst there are a few sex scenes starting with the drunken blow job and featuring Susan Sarandon topless they are as realistically handled as the actual movie, well almost. I say almost because the way the passionate sex starts is almost fantasy like but then from then on it feels real, raw, steamy, sweaty, fun and not coming across as staged soft porn, as is often the case in movies which have sex scenes. What is so good is that in those sex scenes you get the real sense of the fun found during the start of a physical relationship where the sheer passion and excitement of being with someone makes you ignore everything and anything else. It stops these sex scenes feeling tacky or included purely for sensationalism.

What helps "White Palace" to gel is the superb casting of James Spader and Susan Sarandon. As Spader proved in many a movie he is perfect of playing that sort of rich kid character, slightly snobby yet also slightly nervous and he does it again with his portrayal of Max. But what makes Spader's performance so good is that the character naturally grows when he realises what is important to him, who matters and who doesn't and Spader demonstrates this in a simple but truthful way. Likewise Sarandon does what she does so well playing that exciting, sexy old woman who's love of life just fills the screen yet has vulnerabilities. Sarandon seems so comfortable with who she is that the performance feels so natural, like an extension of herself rather than just acting. Together they work well except in those few scenes where the storyline ends up being contrived slush and then there is almost an uncomfortable feeling to their performances, as if they are ill at ease at trying to make those few unbelievable scenes work.

What this all boils down to is that "White Palace" is a strangely over looked and brilliant movie. It deals with what for many will be familiar territory but manages to make it for the most feel real and believable as we watch the troubled pair deal with issues such as social standing and age. It's a shame that just a handful of scenes and a frankly terrible ending spoil what otherwise would have been an outstanding movie.

Tags: Age Gap Romances