AT FIRST SIGHT
Kilmer is Virgil Adamson, a blind massage therapist who lives in upstate
New York and is "taken care of" by his older sister, Jennie (McGillis).
Though he appears to be in his thirties, she treats him like he can't make
it across the room without her help. This co-dependent relationship sets
us up for the predictable reaction to be played out when Virgil meets a
Enter the woman: Amy Benic (Sorvino) is a stressed-out architect from
New York City who must take a vacation to relax. She books a massage at
the spa where Virgil works, and, though she doesn't realize he's blind,
falls in love with him because he's so darned good at what he does. And
he falls in love with her because, well, she let him put his hands all over
her naked body. And she smelled good.
When Virgil brings Amy home, Jennie can hardly contain her disgust. Not
only is Amy pretty, but the two actually seem happy together. The nerve!
Then Amy tells Virgil about an article she read concerning a new surgical
procedure that can possibly restore his sight. Virgil is put off (he spent
many years being poked and prodded by well-meaning doctors, and has no desire
to do it again), but realizes that if he gets the operation, he'll get to
see Amy's hot bod. So he goes along.
Things don't go well at first. Virgil's vision is not crystal clear the
first second he opens his eyes, so everyone goes ballistic. And of course,
"the media" is there, shining bright lights in his eyes without
the slightest concern for his welfare. But even after he can see better,
he has problems: His father (Ken Howard), who deserted the family when Virgil
was just a blind kid, wants to reconcile now that he can see again. His
doctor (Bruce Davison) seems unsympathetic to his adjustment troubles. And
Amy, who is getting tired of having to point out which is the fork and which
is the spoon, is sharing romantic dances with her ex-husband (Steven Weber).
To tell the truth, this film is not all bad, and it gets better as it
goes on. Kilmer's blind bit is believable, except that he feels the need
to sport a big, toothy grin the whole time he's feeling his way around.
Sorvino does some good work as the woman who must re-teach Virgil everything
he knows. But the most believable, sensible performance, and the one that
really saves the film, is Nathan Lane as Phil Webster, the quirky visual
therapist. He shows Virgil that life is a matter of trial and error, whether
one can see or not. When everyone else is walking on eggs so as not to upset
Virgil, Phil encourages him to take risks, fail, and try again.
At First Sight struggles to have the impact of a film like Awakenings (another Oliver Sacks book), and it succeeds at making a sighted person think about the real difficulty of adjusting one's brain to the new introduction of visual stimuli. But this trite screenplay can only take that so far, and that's a shame. ***½
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