What makes the acting and directing debut of heartland rocker John Mellencamp such a kick is the way his vibrantly funny and touching film plays as an extension of his music without his singing a note. The script is by Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show), but the movie is as sexy, comic, sad and precise as a Mellencamp song. Missing is the high-gloss egotism you expect when a star in one medium switches to another.
Mellencamp plays Bud Parks, a fat-cat country singer who leaves L.A. with his wife (Mariel Hemingway) to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather (Dub Taylor) back home in Indiana. Bud’s visit to the hick town that spawned him precipitates strong reactions. He loses his wife by taking up with an old flame (Kay Lenz) who is married to his brother (Brent Huff) but screwing his father (Claude Akins). Bud thinks he belongs home, but in an incisive scene, his sister (Deirdre O’Connell) tells him otherwise.
Though Mellencamp comes from Indiana, don’t expect a film à clef. The subject is emotion, not gossip. McMurtry speaks the language of longing, and Mellencamp knows its cadence. He gives a vivid portrayal of a man whose dreams don’t jibe with reality. Among the many grace notes are the uncommonly fine performances Mellencamp draws from Lenz, Hemingway and O’Connell and his unerring feel for character and atmosphere. Mellencamp has made an admirably unfussy movie that sneaks into your heart with the hypnotic power of a song.