Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that leave audiences not knowing what to think.
Joshua Brand’s 1995 romantic comedy A Pryomaniac’s Love Story is a film about three love stories revolving around a bakery that been set on fire. Love compels several people to take the blame for the arson, showing how some characters are crazy in love and some are just plain crazy. Directed by Brand and written by Morgan Ward, this quirky comedy stars John Leguizamo in one of his first leading roles opposite Sadie Frost and William Baldwin. Inspired by fairy tales and Shakespeare, A Pyromaniac’s Love Story is a movie about love, obsession, and above all insanity.
A Pyromaniac’s Love Story is all about the grand romantic gestures, it is the foundation for the entire film. The move opens with a “Once upon a time” story set against a starlit city view. Sergio (Leguizamo) sweeps the floors at a bakery when a stranger woman (played by Erika Eleniak) corners him and forces a kiss on him. She walks away sullenly, mumbling that Sergio’s love must be a lucky woman. This is where Sergio begins narrating and describing his love for Hattie (Frost). Hattie works at a neighboring diner for her father.
She is a tough no nonsense girl who wants to see the world. Sergio loves her, but she wants him to want more for himself, while he is happy to work at the bakery and aspires to one day become the manager. When we meet Hattie, she is strangling a patron at the diner who groped her. Hattie has no problem expressing herself with physical violence and Sergio loves her all the more for it. Sergio confesses that he gets so caught up in thinking about her that he forgets to breathe and passes out.
The characters in the film use a lot of poetic imagery when they speak, make grand declarations of love, and dramatic gestures like jumping on cars to make bold statements. Mr. Linzer, the bakery owner, dismisses Sergio’s distracted behavior because “cupid dances on his eyelids.” Mr. Linzer is later found dancing alone in a gazebo because he is so happy to learn his wife still loves him.
The strangest character is Garet, a rich man with a leg injury, played by William Baldwin, who set the bakery on fire to prove his love for Stephanie, the mysterious woman who assaulted Sergio at the bakery. Garet makes loud speeches, lies on train tracks, and is angry that Sergio has taken the blame for the arson. This is where the story gets a bit muddled. Garet’s father has approached Sergio and offered to pay him $25,000 if he will take the fall for the arson. Garet has a record.
Sergio knows the money will enable him to travel with Hattie, but he won’t take the fall. His hand is forced when Mr. Linzer takes the blame for the fire because he believed Sergio did it to help him get insurance money. Sergio then confesses to the crime. This makes the father’s bribe useless to the plot as Sergio was compelled to take the blame anyway. The whole situation is almost resolved when Garet decides to take the blame to prove his love. That plan goes south when he decides that he too is in love with Hattie.
With a plot this complicated by so many understandings, it’s easy to see why this film did not receive great critical acclaim. This movie opened up to some pretty negative reviews. Some critics believed the plot to be too convoluted or found issues with the direction. I gotta say, it’s an offbeat film, but I appreciate its odd choices. The plot may get a little over involved, but overall it’s a story about being in love and fighting for what’s believed to be unrequited love. The film also has a great cast. Frost is wonderful and Eleniak has excellent comedic delivery. This is Baldwin’s wackiest and most fun role. Leguizamo has a huge body of work and I think it’s because he brings something new and different to every role. This is one of his first leading roles before his Golden Globe nominated role in Too Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy that’s heavy on the whimsy, but nonsense in plot, check out A Pyromaniac’s Love Story, it’s delightful.