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Film / The Accidental Tourist

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The Accidental Tourist is a 1988 American drama film starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis. It was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and scored by John Williams. The film's screenplay was adapted by Kasdan and Frank Galati from the 1985 novel of the same name by Anne Tyler.

Macon Leary (Hurt) is a Baltimore writer of travel guides for reluctant business travelers. His marriage to his wife Sarah (Turner) is disintegrating in the aftermath of the murder of their twelve-year-old son. Sarah eventually leaves Macon, moving out of their house and into an apartment. After he falls down the basement stairs and breaks his leg, Macon returns to his childhood home to stay with his eccentric siblings.

Macon is pursued by Muriel Pritchett (Davis), an animal hospital employee and dog trainer with a sickly son. Macon eventually hires Muriel to put his dog through much-needed obedience training. Although Muriel at first seems brash and unsophisticated, Macon finds himself slowly opening up to her and trusting her, and he spends most nights at her house, which makes things complicated when Sarah becomes aware of the situation, and she decides they should move back together.


One of the most acclaimed films of 1988, it was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Supporting Actress for Davis, which she won. John Williams was nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Best Original Score.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: You send your son to sleepaway camp — and he never returns, because he sneaked off the campgrounds to go to a fast food joint and became a victim in a robbery where the criminal decided to Leave No Witnesses.
  • Adapted Out: Macon's nephews and neices, Muriel's parents and sister.
  • Black Sheep: Muriel, explored in the book where it's learned she became a screw-up in her family's eyes (but not her sister's.)
  • Calvinball: What the Leary siblings' card game "Vaccination" seems like to everyone outside their circle, with complicated, almost random rules.
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  • Determinator: Muriel's main hat. To Macon, she at first seems like a Stalker with a Crush, but it's soon apparent she has the same determination with everything. Her parents think she can't make it on her own with a baby? Screw it, she's going to scrimp by by herself, darn it. Macon tells her not to go to Paris? Hah. She books herself a budget excursion to Paris.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Macon and his siblings, in that they have no sense of direction and constantly get lost.
    • Macon and Porter are against that Porter's wife let her teenage son drive several hundred miles alone with his siblings.
  • Empty Shell: Macon was never the most emotional person, but Ethan's death turns him into this, and leads to his divorce with Sarah, who says he's no longer just stoic — he's ossified.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: In the book, Muriel has several jobs, like running errands and doing laundry for others, because she's barely getting by, and lives in the poor part of Baltimore.
  • First Girl Wins: How Muriel assumes the relationship between Macon and Sarah will end up. It nearly does, but Macon chooses Muriel in the end.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Macon loosens some of Muriel's over-protectiveness of Alexander. When Macon lets him buy whatever he wants, he pops out of a dressing room with an oversized t-shirt and jeans. Macon notes that he no longer looks like an asthmatic wimp, but a normal kid with floppy blond hair and huge smile.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Muriel Pritchett is a quirky dog trainer who helps both the dog and his owner, Macon Leary. Upon meeting Muriel, Macon's life changes in ways he comes to view as healing. However, in the novel, Muriel is more manic depressive - she sometimes becomes moody and sour, even neglecting her son.
  • My Beloved Smother:
    • In the book, Muriel is an overprotective parent, so Alex is gaunt with close-cropped hair. Ironically, this only leads to bullying in school.
    • Also in the book, Muriel describes this of her parents. When her sister starts complaining about it because they stopped focusing on Muriel and are now smothering her. Muriel tells her to stand up to them.
  • Opposites Attract: One of the major themes of the story. Invoked In-Universe by Sarah in the book, who says that Macon and Muriel will be one of those couples at a party whom no one can figure out why they're together. Macon is briefly distracted by this thought, having had those thoughts about others and now was a living example.
  • Oven Logic: Inverted: To keep the Thanksgiving turkey moist, Macon's sister cooks it overnight at only 140°F (60°C). Macon think's she's insane, and that it'll breed bacteria. It comes out disgusting (gray, with the chest cavity having caved in), but Julian has two helpings, and apparently no one got sick from it.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Ethan's death before the story begins hangs over the entire story.
  • Posthumous Character: Ethan has already been killed in a senseless robbery at sleepaway camp when the story begins.
  • Pretty in Mink: Muriel wears a few furs, including a purple rabbit jacket.
  • Replacement Goldfish: For Macon, Alexander seems to be one for Ethan. Sarah brings it up to Macon. In the book, she suggests that maybe they could try again — Macon thinks it would be a bad idea.
  • Revenge: In the book, Sarah talks about a fantasy in which she would show the murderer how empty and wasted her life is, make him have a deep Heel Realization, before blowing him away with a gun.
  • She's Got Legs: Like Thelma & Louise afterwards, the film shows why Geena Davis (who is six feet tall and most of it leg) was made for this trope.
  • Talkative Loon: Macon's first impression of Muriel.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe, Macon ponders if Ethan would have grown up to be like the French boy who helps him into a taxi. The film manages to convey the moment perfectly.


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