PAUSE IT: What do you see? In this scene from director James Lapine’s Impromptu (1991), actors Emma Thompson and Anton Rodgers sit up in bed clearly having had a recent marital tiff. At first, the mood between the two characters strikes us as perhaps uncomfortable or even adversarial. Yet, we soon realize that the tone of the scene is contrary to our initial assumption and is actually more comic. Though often used interchangeably, the terms mood and tone have two subtle but nevertheless distinct meanings. While mood can broadly be defined as the emotions expressed and communicated inside the story world, tone is perhaps best described as the director’s (or author’s) attitude (his or her own point of view) imposed on that same story. No place is this relationship between mood and tone better seen (or more strained) than in the realm of comedy. By having his actors overly bandaged and bruised, Thompson with her hair tied up in oversized pink bows, the film takes on a droll, even cartoonishly farcical, reality.

Impromptu (1991)
Director: James Lapine
Cast: Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson,Mandy Patinkin, Julian Sands, Bernadette Peters
Cinematography by Bruno de Keyzer
Available From Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

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