This stunner of a movie is so far under the radar you’ll have to go to HBO to find it. Get crackin’. It’s the hip antidote to multiplex junk such as Mad Money and Meet the Spartans. Susan Sarandon is at her scrappy, sexy best as tobacco heiress Doris Duke — think Paris Hilton with brains and genuine hotness. And this is Ralph Fiennes like you’ve never seen him, as Bernard Lafferty, a secretly alcoholic, furtively gay Irishman who stumbles into a job as her butler. The time is 1987. Six years later, Doris is dead and Bernard, out of rehab, controls her billion-dollar estate. Was it murder? So went the rumor, but the charges didn’t stick. The deft script by Hugh Costello cheerfully admits, “Some of the following is based on fact and some of it is not.” In reality, Bernard resembled Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Doris looked like, um, hell. But you won’t care. Get Emmys ready for Sarandon and Fiennes, who transcend everything tabloid in the material. They create an intimate love story that manages to be hilarious and heartbreaking, often at the same time. How fitting that they duet so movingly on an S&M ballad from Peggy Lee (Bernard’s former employer) called “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart.”
All praise to director Bob Balaban, who doesn’t miss a beat or a nuance in bringing us in, close as a whisper, to what might have been.