Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This, my friends, is what is known as a Tear-Jerker.  A film in which we are manipulated artificially into feeling for this character or that character so that when the Big Hit comes we are left wasting boxes of Kleenex in an outpouring of emotion for people who we don’t know and who don’t exist.  Tear jerkers aren’t a bad thing though, as the highest grossing movie of all time, ‘Titanic’ wasn’t nothing but one big bloated tear jerker.  Not that I’m abject to crying at movies either as I have shed a tear or two over more than one football movie.  I’ve never broke down at an official tear jerker movie though, and though I thought ‘Griffin and Phoenix’ wasn’t so bad, it didn’t come close to making me cry.  Maybe if they had played a little football…

Dermot Mulroney is Mr. Griffin (We are never told his first name) who we meet while waiting for a conference with his oncologist who will tell him that the cancer he has been diagnosed with has not only spread, but has become even more aggressive and he has a year to live at the most.  Upon hearing that news Griffin goes over to his ex-wife’s house to play basketball with his sons, and from the way he is greeted by the boys it is quite obvious that he hasn’t really spent much time with the brats, which makes Griffin sad.  He then decides to audit a class at the local U on death and dying to try to get some kind of understanding on what is going on with him, and there he meets the lovely Sarah Phoenix (Amanda Peet) who is a campus administrator performing a professional audit of the very same class.  Feeling bold, Griffin asks Phoenix out, but Phoenix explains to him that she has problems that he couldn’t begin to understand.  We already know about Griff’s problems so he is undeterred and manages to convince the woman to have dinner with him where the two spend a gloriously fun evening sneaking into movie theaters, walking in the park and drinking coffee until sunrise.  Awwww….

Despite the mixed messages that Phoenix is giving him, the two continue to see each other off and on, with the feelings between the two obviously beginning to bloom.  I’m thinking that maybe dude should tell this woman who is falling in love with him that he might be dead by next week, but that’s just me.  Eventually Sarah falls for the man enough that she’s ready to get on down, but my man Griff just can’t rise to the occasion.  In one of the better scenes in the film, she tells Griff afterwards that it’s okay that willie won’t work, to which he replies that it’s not okay, it’s never okay and that’s just something that you’re supposed to say.  Oh how true.  But here’s the rub.  It seems that Phoenix has secret herself that she’s been keeping from Griffin, and it’s a hell of a dealio this secret she’s hiding, one that will either tear this lovely couple to shreds or will bring them back together awash in the waves of love.

Okay, okay I’ll stop already.  It has been brought to my attention that ‘Griffin and Phoenix’ is actually a remake of a 1976 television film of the same name starring Columbo himself Peter Falk and Jill Clayburgh.  And though I thought this was a Direct To Video film, it actually made it’s debut on the Lifetime Network as one of their movies of the week, which I would imagine is no great surprise.  Fact is though, this version of ‘Griffin and Phoenix’ is actually pretty good, with all of the praise for this movies worth thrust upon the shoulders of it’s charismatic leads Amanda Peet and Dermot Mulroney who not only carry this rather clichéd tear jerker acting wise, but are that rare male / female acting duo who actually have good chemistry together.  I don’t how one would actually react when one finds that they have a terminal illness, but I completely bought in to Griffin’s reaction to his situation and subsequent reactions.  Ms. Peet uses her steely blue eyes to maximum effect in her role as the confused and angry Sarah Phoenix whose life is literally crumbling around her. 

Thank goodness for the performances of the leads in this film however, as there is nothing unique or special about the narrative in ‘Griffin and Phoenix’ as it is a strictly paint by numbers tear jerker.  Nothing happens that you don’t expect to happen, and there are no surprises or forks in the road that lead to anywhere except the inevitable.  This is probably why the film, since it didn’t star Will Smith and  / or Julia Roberts, ended up on lifetime instead of its intended theatrical release. 

Still, ‘Griffin and Phoenix’ was a very well directed, well photographed and superbly acted film that fans of this genre certainly wont be disappointed with.  But if they wanted tears from me, they should have had Griffin toss and 80-yard bomb to Phoenix with the clock ticking down to triple zero, and then have Griffin drop dead on the field.  That’s what I would’ve done, and that would have made me cry.

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