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Peter Bogdanovich brings conviction but little else to this upbeat response to Robert Altman's NASHVILLE. Aspiring, New York City-born singer-songwriter Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) steps off the bus in Nashville to pursue her dreams, starting with the weekly open auditions at the
Bluebird Cafe. There she meets mercurial up-and-coming star James Wright (River Phoenix) and his pals Kyle (Dermot Mulroney) and Linda Lue (Sandra Bullock). Miranda fails the audition, and maternal cafe manager Lucy (country star K.T. Oslin) tells Miranda that her songwriting, while technically
adept, lacks soul. Miranda takes a job as a waitress at the Bluebird and moves in with Linda Lue. She also sets her romantic sights on James. She, in turn, is unsuccessfully pursued by Kyle, who, in turn, is unsuccessfully pursued by Linda Lue. Bogdanovich returns to an America he hasn't really
visited since his early films THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and PAPER MOON. Bogdanovich lavishes genuine feeling on Nashville, both as a place and a state of mind, and the principal locations seem more genuinely alive than the human beings passing through them. The characters themselves never really
emerge from Carol Heikkinen's thin and predictable screenplay, which plays like a not-very-original country song. River Phoenix, in one of his final roles before his death in 1993, is seriously miscast here, his stringy hair and laid-back, L.A. attitude making him the antithesis of a country star.
Despite her underwritten character, Mathis easily takes top acting honors with equal parts toughness and tenderness.