After years of upward mobility, best friends Jeff (William Peterson) and Marty (Gary Cole) have achieved the American dream – and ended up disillusioned and restless. They concoct an overseas business trip meant to exorcise their demons, but it soon escalates into a full-fledged escape – to a spectacularly remote tropical island where they both fall in love with the same free-spirited beauty (Sheryl Lee). Throwing caution to the wind, they make the fateful decision to shed their families back home and set out to create a sexual and spiritual utopia, observed and counselled by a wry Buddhist Monk (Terence Stamp). But there’s trouble in this sensual paradise … and it will ultimately test the bonds of friendship and the limits of love for each of them.
Kiss the Sky 7.5
eyelights: Terence Stamp. it existential musings. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its artificial dialogues.
“After twenty years of meaningless shit, let’s do something that matters.”
A lot of adults hit that age where they start to regret some of the life choices that they’ve made. Whether it’s career, lifestyle, romance, parenthood, or some other source of discontent, for some it’s hard to not look back and wonder “What if…?”. Angst usually accompanies these thoughts, instead of curiosity or wonderment, as though happiness lay in the rearview mirror, not dead ahead.
It may merely be The Middle Ages of adulthood, but for some it’s The Dark Ages.
In ‘Kiss the Sky’, two long-time friends, Jeff and Marty, have recently reconnected after a decade apart. Each is successful by most standards but both are suffering midlife crises, looking to escape the prisons they feel trapped in. Then Jeff suggests that they take a business trip to the Philippines, where they’ll be able to get away from it all and also indulge in a few pleasantries.
Once there, after a few adventures, they get wind of an idyllic island where they’re told they can “kiss the sky”. Naturally, they go. It’s exactly what they needed; they feel alive again. But it’s when they meet Andy, an Aussie tourist, that things truly shift for them. Soon they no longer want to go back home; they decide to stay on the island with the object of their affection.
The three of them. Together.
I first saw the picture when it was released on DVD back in the late ’90s. I worked at a video store then and grabbed it if only because it starred ‘Twin Peaks’ Sheryl Lee. I had been pleasantly surprised by her career thus far, with memorable turns in ‘Backbeat’ and ‘Bliss‘; I couldn’t wait to see more of her. And ‘Kiss the Sky’ certainly promised that, if you know what I mean.
I was somewhat disappointed: not only were there just a couple of sexy bits, the picture was a bit of a downer; I had no idea going in that it centered on two men in the throes of existential crises. Though it’s somewhat realistic from some men’s perspectives, angst permeates the proceedings even when Jeff and Marty can distance themselves enough to have fun. It’s not an uplifting film.
No matter how much of Sheryl Lee we get to see.
It felt semi-autobiographical, as though the writer had experienced this kind of midlife crisis and had an agenda in penning this screenplay: the picture is rife with philosophical dialogues between Jeff, Marty and Kozen, a Buddhist monk who happens to be vacationing on the island. But the dialogues are a bit clunky. For instance, natural contractions like “what’s” are served in their full form.
No one speaks like that in a casual context.
Adding to the dialogues’ woes is the fact that Lee’s Australia accent wasn’t terribly convincing to me. Perhaps it got the approval of her dialogue coach, but it sounded off to me (what the heck do I know, though?). So, between her accent and the clunky messaging, I remained at a remove – I watched our duo try to work out their issues without empathizing for their plight much or at all.
The dialogues aren’t all bad, mind you. I mean, I do like that it tackles the meaning of life head on; there’s some truth in what it says. And, though some of the characters’ views of male-female relationships are dated, it’s likely generational and it remained fascinating to watch Jeff and Andy intellectually !@#$ each other while Marty and Andy relate far more casually.
I also like its conclusion, that there aren’t easy-fit answers for everyone; it would have been poor form for Jeff and Marty to both end up in the same place, with the same needs and solutions. And I like its dark humour, such as when Jeff decides to build a resort on the island but his translator purposely lies to him in order to meet his expectations; Jeff is in for one heck of a surprise.
The picture’s greatest strength, though, is its atmosphere, which is supported by the exotic locales, the lush greenery, the late-night festivities and the growing heat between Jeff, Marty and Andy. And then it takes us to the Philippines’ poorer, more decrepit areas, as though it couldn’t stand reveling in the fantasy. If not for its downcast nature, this would probably a fairly sexy picture.
Instead, it’s in a constant struggle between the darkness and the light.
(…which is probably appropriate contextually.)
The soundtrack is filled with Leonard Cohen songs, either in their original form or as covers. I found this interesting because what little I know of him suggests a similar duality. The song “The Future”, for instance, is a complete contrast with some of his more romantic material. In any event, the soundtrack was mostly enjoyable, though some of the songs were a little bit ill-fitting.
‘Kiss the Sky’ is a motion picture rich with mature dialogues, the kinds that adults should probably have more frequently – and earlier on. Its intention is quite noble, because it tries to serve as a blueprint for another way of being. Unfortunately, it’s its own worst enemy: whenever it takes the audience higher it quickly grounds it again. It’s pretty good, but it’s always fighting itself.
And we’re caught in the middle.
Date of viewing: July 11, 2017