Cindy Williams should have gotten an Academy Award. Instead the movie was buried.
Yes, that Cindy Williams. Shirley to Penny Marshall’s Laverne. She should have gotten an Oscar for her performance in UFORIA (1985). Instead, the movie sat on the shelf for five years and then played in only a handful of theaters for a handful of days. The reasoning was that they had no idea how to sell this strange little movie, so they simply didn’t.
They weren’t wrong about not knowing how to sell it. The official tagline was “A down-home comedy that’s out of this world.” And while it has some truly funny moments, I don’t think this could be classified as a comedy. And the out of the world part…it’s a little more complicated.
UFORIA starts out with the great Fred Ward (yes, Remo Williams himself) driving through rural California looking for…something, but nothing in particular. He’s your standard small town drifter that appears in many movies with too-long desert road shots. He happens to run into an old friend, Brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton, the Grand Master of quirky little indie films) a faith healer who insists he isn’t lying, because many of his followers end up healed by their own belief, even if he doesn’t have divine powers himself. He gives Ward’s Sheldon a job playing a crippled man looking to be healed.
While in town, Sheldon meets Cindy Williams’ character, Arlene. She’s a grocery checkout clerk, Born-Again Christian, and UFO devotee. Despite their very human flaws (or maybe because of them), the two fall in love quickly and try to figure out how to exist in a relationship so foreign to both. Then Arlene starts having visions of an impending alien visit, where she is to be a Noah figure and lead believers to the ship.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to ruin it. There aren’t really plot twists. Instead, the story unfolds naturally, even as it gets strange and absurd. It never feels out of place, even when unusual things happen, because it’s completely believable that this is what these folks’ lives would be like.
Despite what the tagline infers, UFORIA isn’t a sci-fi movie. The movie is really about the characters trying to live their best life in the worlds they inhabit, and coming to terms with their own faults. All too often, rural small town residents are portrayed as stereotypes in movies, either as ignorant buffoons or saintly noble salt-of-the-Earth types. UFORIA, especially because of the nuanced performances, achieves a rare feat by making the characters simply human. Even the charlatan Brother Bud is sympathetic, much to my surprise.
My only hesitation was with the last minute of the movie. I can’t say I disliked it. In fact, I have a different opinion on it each time I think about it, which in and of itself is a good sign. But even when I’m disliking it, the end isn’t enough to ruin the love I have for this movie.
UFORIA never saw a DVD release and only had a small VHS print run. Thankfully, someone was kind enough to transfer the videotape to streaming. Take some time to decompress during this holiday weekend and help keep this gem from being forgotten:
Question of the night–what do you think of extraterrestrial life?