To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday

* 1/2*

This rather bland film about recovering from grief covers no new ground. David Lewis (Peter Gallagher) lost his wife, Gillian (Michelle Pfieffer), two years earlier in a freak boating accident. Now, on the anniversary of her death, and also her 37th birthday, his family gathers to help him celebrate the occasion, and hopefully get over Gillian. What they don't know is that he visits Gillian's ghost nightly on the beach. It's never really made clear whether her ghost is actually appearing to David, or if he is just plain bonkers. Anyhow, David's meddling sister-in-law, Esther (Kathy Baker), wants David to return to normal, or she'll go to court to take custody of David's neglected daughter Rachel (Claire Danes). Esther's husband, Paul (Bruce Altman), doesn't agree with her actions, but he's all talk and no action. Esther and Paul have brought along a blind date (Wendy Crewson) for David, but she mainly lingers in the background, and we never get to know much about her. In fact, we never get to know much about anyone, particularly the title character. Gillian seems to have only one character trait: she's beautifully perfect, which, although well done by Pfeiffer, hardly fleshes her out for the audience. The film itself is almost as shallow. The conflict is mostly artificial; why is David's situation so terrible? In forcing the issue, the film is a meddling as Esther, its most unappealing character. There are a couple of gimmicky situations, and a few lines of acerbicly witty dialogue from Altman, but really there's not much to recommend this film. It has all the substance of a ghost.

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