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USA 1993
Directed by
Fred Schepsi
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Six Degrees Of Separation

The combination of John Guare's elegant script adapted from his own stage play, and fine performances by Donald Sutherland, Stockard Channing and Will Smith make Six Degrees of Separation a treat for anyone with an appetite for theatrical adaptations on film.  Those not so inclined will find it too wordy and artificial. There will be plenty of advocates for both views.

Sutherland and Channing play two Manhattan high end art dealers, Flan and Ouisa Kittredge. One evening when entertaining a possible backer (Ian McKellen) for the purchase of a Cezanne, a young black man named Paul (Will Smith) appears at their door claiming to be a close friend of their children, with whom he attended boarding school, and to just having  been mugged downstairs in Central Park.  Flan and Ouisa are immediately charmed by Paul's savoir faire and not a little by his claim that his father is Sidney Poitier. They invite him to stay overnight but the next morning discover that he is anything but what he claims to be. Then it transpires that others in their circle have also fallen for the same ruse.

Six Degrees of Separation is a deliciously farcical satire of the well-heeled Fifth Avenue upper middle class set. The fun is in fanning the vanity of the comfortably rich then laughing as their cosseted world starts unraveling in a dizzying spiral of unforeseen events.  Sutherland is particularly good as the urbane but ultimately venal art dealer skewered on Guare’s rapier wit while Channing, who had played the role on stage, is much more sympathetic as his ultimately good-hearted wife whose only real sin is to have fallen under his spell. It is Smith however, who in his first big screen role who really impresses in commanding his demanding part like a seasoned trouper.

Schepisi handles the transition from stage to screen well, maintaining a  theatrical style for the performances but unlike the stage production, filling the screen with furnishings and settings which give the somewhat arch dialogue.a plush context. He is well aided by Ian Baker's polished cinematography.

Notwithstanding the quality of the production the promise of the film's title is not really borne out by what we seewhich is at its broadest,human cupidity and self-deluding narcissism.There is also an ugly suicide which seems at odds with the otherwise self-serving glibness of the Upper East Side setting (familiar from any number of Woody Allen films). Six degrees of separation, however, I couldn't see. "Money Makes The World Go Around" might have been a better choice.




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