Six Degrees of Separation

All movie guide rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Two socialites find their view of the world changed when a young man takes advantage of their preconceptions in this thoughtful comedy-drama. Flan and Ouisa Kittredge (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) are a married couple who have built highly successful careers as art dealers catering to Manhattan's upper crust. The Kittredges are entertaining friends one evening when a young black man named Paul (Will Smith) appears at their door. Paul says that he's a close friend of their children, with whom he attended boarding school, and he's just been mugged and needs to get off the street for a moment. Flan and Ouisa invite him in, and they are immediately taken by Paul's intelligence and charm; he offers to prepare dinner, regales them with stories about his father, Sidney Poitier, and ends up spending the night at their apartment. However, the next morning Flan and Ouisa discover that they've been had; Paul is actually a con artist from the streets who has been pulling the wool over the eyes of many of their friends -- and his actions are beginning to have serious consequences. John Guare adapted the script from his own successful stage play; the supporting cast includes Ian McKellen, Mary Beth Hurt, Bruce Davison, and Heather Graham. -- Mark Deming, All Movie Guide


John Guare's hit Broadway play--about an Upper East Side couple who gets bilked by a young black man claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son--receives a terrific screen translation in this film by Fred Schepisi. Though the play was discursive and episodic, Schepisi, working from Guare's adaptation, makes it all flow like a fascinating evening listening to friends recount something that happened to them. But the story itself is also intriguing for the disparity it reveals between the wealthy, the would-be wealthy, and the have-nots yearning to be rich. Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland are exceptional as the couple who open their home to a young man they believe is a friend of their children (to whom they barely speak); Will Smith is fascinatingly glib as the young man, who claims that his famous father is casting a film version of Cats and offers his hosts roles as extras in the film. Smith finds the heartbreaking core of this character and Channing is haunting as a woman looking to make a connection, even with a confused young con artist. --Marshall Fine


My rating: 3 Stars