Bad Manners

In adapting his play Ghost in the Machine for the screen, David Gilman hasn't strayed far from its Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? setup, with childless, married professors playing host to the wife's old flame and his younger girlfriend for an extended weekend. The get-together starts with overt aggression, thinly disguised as dry wit, and quickly deteriorates into nasty sniping, unpleasant accusations, and an extended search for “truth.” This search plays out on three levels: economic, through a convoluted trail of suspicion, cowardice, and betrayal after a $50 bill disappears; sexual, through conflicting versions of a possible in-house infidelity; and professional, through an undignified scramble to salvage reputations after a proposed musical link between God and computers goes off-line. Director Jonathan Kaufman has done well enough given the tirelessly confrontational material: the locations are neither claustrophobic nor insistently cinematic. The cast—Bonnie Bedelia as the trapped tenured academic, David Strathairn as her embittered nontenured spouse, Saul Rubinek as the enthusiastic explicator of aleatory music, and Caroleen Feeney as the nihilistic young agent provocateur—is highly believable, though only Bedelia's pensive lucidity transcends the shrillness of the script and imparts some generosity to the film.

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