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It's 1987 in New Jersey, and good hearted white trash friends Debby (Uma Thurman) and Beth (Juliette Lewis) are desperate and dateless. They spend their days in dead-end jobs and their nights looking for love at the local dive. Single mom Beth just wants a good time and a quickie. But Debby is so obsessed with finding Mr Right she develops a stress-related condition known as hysterical blindness. When hunky Rick (Justin Chambers) pays her attention even though he's eyeing Beth, Debby's romantic fantasies are thrown into overdrive.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
Hairspray, spandex, leg warmers and Cindy Lauper. Ah, the '80s, when greed was good and drugs were bad. They say love was a battlefield back then, and they were right if the lives of these two white trash wretches are anything to go by. A HBO film made for TV in the US and released straight to video in Australia, Hysterical Blindness is a downbeat drama executive produced by its star, Uma Thurman. If you wonder why this A-List goddess was interested in this thin-plotted, somewhat slow-paced character study, it's obvious; because of the A-class roles. And Thurman bends her role as a gangly, horny, high-haired desperado to her will. With a broad "New Joy-sey" accent and emotional outbursts that are, well, emotional, she's terrific to watch, proving that A-grade casting can lift B-grade material. Juliette Lewis - accustomed to such gritty B-movies, provides a nice foil as the ditzy single mother, and Gena Rowlands plays Debby’s aging waitress mum just perfectly – a woman down on life but not out.

Indian director Mira Nair has captured the milieu of blue collar New Jersey with the same emotional immediacy she did with Monsoon Wedding, and although she and writer Laura Cahill have constructed a movie around flawed but somewhat unexceptional women, she emerges with a strong character study that's rich in life's tiny pitfalls. The only real excitement in the film is Debby's sudden case of hysterical blindness, but that's not so exciting really. It's a simple film about real women toiling with life and love, with getting by on what little they have, and looking for love in the wrong places.

Like the film, the DVD release is somewhat thin on features. While most DVD packages round off with the standard Cast and Crew Bios, this begins with them. It's accompanied by Cast and Crew Interviews, which are disappointingly presented as text transcripts rather than video format. Ironically, the screen text is so blindingly small that anyone inclined to read them may find themselves suffering a similar case of blinding hysteria. It's a shame, really, because the interviews themselves are quite

Included is a bland 8-page Photo Gallery, but the full-length audio commentary by Nair rises above the doldrums to offer some much-needed reprise. The track plays like she's reading from a psychology textbook, but it's nonetheless an engaging, intelligent and thoughtful piece. Avoiding stereotypes, Nair discusses the visual aspects, subliminal messages and character neurosis that prove there was in fact more to the '80s than hairspray and spandex. A better DVD package might have offered more insight into this thoughtful slice of life.

Published January 8, 2003

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(US, 2003

CAST: Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis, Gena Rowlands, Justin Chambers, Ben Gazzara


RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

PRESENTATION: Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and Crew Bios, Cast and Crew Interviews, Photo Gallery, Commentary with Director Mira Nair

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: January 9, 2004

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