Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Accidental Tourist

Go To

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 with 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 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.

The book and film adaptation contain examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Macon's nephews and nieces, 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.
  • 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.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?:
    • Sarah complains to Macon that he showed absolutely no emotions about Ethan's death, acting like nothing had happened, and even tried to sell off Ethan's beloved belongings like his bike. Macon retorts of course he's broken up about it, but Sarah is right to some degree. Macon's become so unemotional even Macon's wondering if he has lost the ability to care again. The only hint he shows that he has some emotion left is he refuses to get rid of Edward.
    • Even before Ethan's death, Macon wasn't approachable. He later learns from his niece that Ethan mocked his father to his cousins in such a way as to make him seem less like a robot and more like a quirky dad.
  • 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. Even her dog training job is part-time.
  • 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.
  • Grief-Induced Split: After Macon and Sarah's twelve-year-old son was murdered, Macon seems to have lost the ability to care, making Sarah leave him. However, when she learns he is dating Muriel—and is getting better—she wants to reconcile.
  • 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.
  • Identifying the Body: Grieving, emotionally shocked Macon has to identify his son Ethan's body. Almost unemotionally, Macon says, "Yes. That is my son." In the original book, Sarah asks him what it was like, and Macon says that the body was Ethan, but the thing that made Ethan Ethan was gone.
  • 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.
  • May–December Romance: Though it's more April-August in the book and even closer in the film. Macon isn't the first older man Muriel's had a serious relationship with.
  • 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.
  • No Antagonist: Especially so in the film version, which cuts out the closest thing to an antagonistic figure, Muriel's captious mother. The story is, like many of Anne Tyler's works, character-driven.
  • 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.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Muriel's standard look, and it's justified in the book because she shops in thrift stores to survive.
  • The Stoic: Macon tries to be, and largely succeeds. It makes him seem more unemotional than Mr. Spock, however.
  • Talkative Loon: Macon's first impression of Muriel.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In the first few chapters of the book, Macon's started setting up contraptions and time-saving habits now that he's got the house to himself, such as using Ethan's skateboard as a laundry delivery system and sewing up blankets to create "bod pod" that is easier to wash. It seems natural and inventive to Macon, but later in the book, people are astonished at how off the deep end Macon went, and the reader realizes, yes, Macon was going crazy.
  • 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.