Oh dear. I think I just watched a movie about myself in middle age, and it’s not pretty. I’m going to turn out like Grace Beasley (Kathy Bates), married to a stick-in-the-mud like Max (Dan Aykroyd) who thinks he wants more excitement than I can offer. At age sixty, I will still be consoling myself with a celebrity obsession leftover from my youth, and that lump Max will wind up asking me for a divorce.
I’d like to think that I wouldn’t take my obsession as far as Grace does, but who knows. In 30 years I might be completely delusional, and it could be argued that Grace improves her life by acting like a stalker. It all starts when Grace wins tickets to see Victor Fox (Jonathan Pryce), her very favorite singer in the whole world. She and four other winners will sit in the front row and Victor will choose one woman to sing to! Grace is so excited she could just about keel over, but then that stinker Max tells her he wants a divorce right in the middle of the winning phone call. Divorce?! How about a knuckle sandwich? This call is important!
Poor Grace hangs up the phone before securing her ticket, and it takes a great deal of effort to claim her rightful place in the front row. When she finally makes it to the studio, all gussied up and feeling fine, the audience is told that Victor has been delayed. Later, while shopping for groceries, she hears over the store’s p.a. system that he’s been murdered. This causes her to pass out right in the canned food aisle. Crikey! They only play elevator music and old ballads at the grocery stores where I shop.
At this point, Grace realizes she must fly to England and attend Victor Fox’s funeral. Things descend into absurdity as she finds herself seated next to Julie Andrews on the plane, lunching with Victor’s sisters (Vanessa Redgrave and Stephanie Beacham), and being recruited by Victor’s lawyer (the always lovely Richard Briers) to deal with Victor’s stubborn gay lover (Rupert Everett). Huh? Exactly.
It seems that Victor Fox had kept his homosexuality a secret from most of the world, but left his estate to his valet and lover, Dirk. The family is none too happy about this, and the attorney thinks Grace can reason with him because she has such a calming and motherly quality. Amazingly, she does connect with Dirk, and the two pair up to reveal the truth about Victor and avenge his death. The truth part involves dressing Victor’s body in a flamboyant suit, much to the horror of his sisters, and the avenging takes place back in Chicago as Dirk and Grace search for Victor’s killer. This involves a lot of silliness with Grace’s spunky daughter-in-law, who happens to be a dwarf, and eventually they crack the case.
In essence, Unconditional Love is a cute little movie about finding yourself and moving on, but it’s far longer than it needs to be, and after awhile, it’s just sort of tiresome. I’d like to say that I learned my lesson by watching it, but this film sends some seriously mixed messages. In the end of all the craziness, Grace and her new friends wind up on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show with none other than Barry Manilow. Barry Manilow!!! I was raised on his music! They sing “Can’t Smile Without You”, and I know every word! I have to say that if a lifelong celebrity obsession leads to his door, I don’t really have a problem with turning into Grace Beasley. As long as I don’t settle down with Dan Aykroyd, I’m sure everything will be fine.