lantana (lan-tan-uh) n: a genus of tropical shrub with small, colorful blooms that hide a dense, thorny undergrowth.
Lantana opens with a camera pushing through the opaque Australian shrubbery to find the body of a dead woman. It is similar to the opening of Blue Velvet, which slithered into the lawn grass to insinuate clandestine places just out of view. Who is this woman, and how did she die? When the mystery is solved, it turns out to be less of a resolution than the event that causes several lives to intertwine. Like many of Robert Altman’s films, Lantana shows the lives of eight main characters joined by coincidence and connection. Like the lantana bush itself, there is an emotional briar patch of hope and betrayal.
At the center is Leon (Anthony LaPaglia), a cop who is cheating on his wife in the middle of a mid-life crisis meltdown. It’s alarming at first to hear LaPaglia speak. He’s an Australian actor but has spent most of his career playing Americans. Leon’s wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong, in a gorgeous performance) tells her shrink Valerie (Barbara Hershey, full of sadness and desperation) that she thinks her husband is cheating. Valerie and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush, wonderfully meek and damaged) lost their daughter and deal with it in very different ways; he is silent and shuts out his wife, she writes a best-selling novel about it and goes on book tours. She has a gay client who tells of a married man he is dating and his smarmy, pointed tone makes Valerie suspect her own husband, yet another way of distancing and not dealing with their own sorrow. Jane (Rachel Blake) is the woman cheating with Leon. She’s no fool, she knows he will never leave his wife.
Lantana is an embarrassment of riches. Its beautiful storytelling as its thread of conflict and insinuation are used to expose unsettling truths. A real gem of rich performances that should not be overlooked.
Movie Matches: Short Cuts, Magnolia, Ordinary People, In the Bedroom
How to watch: Free on IMDb TV