Dragonfly is the kind of movie that gives me fits. It’s not all that great, but it’s not all that bad, either. It’s mediocre, but it moves at such a nice pace and the payoff is very good, but then it’s, well, so mediocre. I hate movies like Dragonfly because they’re so hard for me to classify my feelings towards them. Do I like it? Do I hate it? Do I like it a little, hate it a little? See what I mean?
Kevin Costner headlines Dragonfly as Joe Darrow, a doctor married to doctor Emily (Susanna Thompson). The couple is living a good life when Emily decides to leave the country and go down to the jungles of South America to do some humanitarian work, all this while she’s in her second trimester of pregnancy. Joe, of course, tries to talk her out of it, but Emily, being the good “we must heal the world” doctor that she is, goes anyway. It turns out Joe is right, and Emily is killed in a rockslide while trying to flee a coming storm down there in no-longer-sunny South America. Joe doesn’t quite know how to grieve because Emily’s body was never recovered, and in short order strange things, visions, and images start to appear to Joe, convincing him that Emily is somehow trying to contact him from beyond the grave. Is it really Emily or is Joe just losing his mind?
The funniest thing about Dragonfly is just how cruel and prone to (what I like to call) assholism the secondary characters are. You’d think that after Joe has lost his wife, and her body is still out there somewhere, that people would cut the man some slack. But noooo. Not only does Joe’s hospital administrator (Joe Morton) act like a total jerk, but everyone else seems to be getting into the act. Joe’s family and friends try to ambush him with a grief counselor who makes general “soothing” statements; his neighbor thinks he’s losing his mind the first time he tells her about his Emily-related encounters. The cops hassle him, a priest calls the cops on him, and poor Joe can only turn to two kids who have both had near-death experiences for help and comfort.
Everyone else seems completely determined to help Joe dig further into the abyss of insanity. Of course it doesn’t help that Joe is losing his composure faster than a bowling ball going down the gutter. Not only is Joe spending way too much time at the hospital, but he’s seeing squiggly cross symbols everywhere.
So is Joe going crazy or is Emily really trying to contact him? Obviously it’s Emily trying to contact him, or else this type of movie would be a waste of time. Movies like Dragonfly never really gives you any reason to doubt that someone’s trying to speak from beyond the grave. That is one of the reasons why Dragonfly is such a familiar, and by now repetitive, movie. There is nothing special here that we haven’t seen before, and after setting up Emily’s pregnancy before her death, it becomes grossly obvious why she’s trying to reach him and direct him back to the South American jungle where she perished.
I have to give credit to the much-maligned Kevin Costner, who does an excellent job here as Joe. Costner’s Joe is spiraling out of control so fast and so drastically that it’s sometimes humorous to see, although I’m sure it wasn’t funny to Joe. The normally cool and collected Joe starts to act like a spaz, doing odd things and visiting the hospitals at all hours of the night. Costner plays the character as vulnerable, something that comes through very well especially when we see just how in control and detached Joe is in the beginning. The quick unraveling of a man who isn’t sure if his dead wife is trying to speak to him or if he’s losing his mind was a treat to watch.
The supporting cast of Dragonfly doesn’t really have much to do except come in every now and then to let Joe know that Emily is dead and that Joe is going crazy. Again, they’re so unsympathetic to his plight that it’s a riot watching them doubt him and consider locking the poor man up for various reasons. Kathy Bates shows up as Miriam, Joe and Emily’s neighbor, a woman who offers some not-so-sage advice to Joe, and at one point accuses him of having lots of mental problems. And she’s his good friend! Tom Shadyac’s direction is competent but doesn’t wow. The cinematography is too dark at times, but the execution of Dragonfly as a whole comes across as average.
So is Dragonfly a good film? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I also don’t think it’s all that bad. It’s mildly entertaining to see Joe slowly lose his mind and it’s hilarious to see how everyone is so intent on telling the man that his wife is dead and that he’s going nuts and should just “snap out of it.” In fact, I recall about a dozen times when someone tells Joe that his wife is dead and that he should “get over it.” Gee, with friends like these…
Tom Shadyac (director) / David Seltzer, Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson (screenplay)
CAST: Kevin Costner …. Joe Darrow
Joe Morton …. Hugh Campbell
Ron Rifkin …. Charlie Dickinson
Linda Hunt …. Sister Madeline
Susanna Thompson …. Emily Darrow