Hugo Pool

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


Robert Downey (the irreverent director of such inspired lunacy as Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace) returns to center stage with his first film in five years, Hugo Pool. In this admittedly very personal film, Downey takes us on a voyage that perhaps is best described by the somewhat-antiquated term “picaresque” with its wonderful set of roguish characters and human triumphs.

Hugo, played just perfectly by Alyssa Milano, is a pool cleaner performing her rounds on one day set mystically in some undetermined future. A multiyear drought has brought a severe crisis to pool-owning southern Californians (it’s illegal to fill your pool with water from the tap), but Hugo is resolute as she goes about her duties. She engages her father (Malcolm MacDowell), who is trying to kick a long-term menu of addictions, to collect water from the Colorado River, aided by a guardian angel hitchhiker (Sean Penn); drafts her mother (Cathy Moriarty) to lend her an extra pair of hands (and some money to pay off a gambling debt so she won’t have to sleep with her bookie); and sets off on a series of appointments that will end up changing their lives.

Along the way she encounters clients like Franz, a film director on bail because he shot an extra for overacting (a deliciously over-the-top cameo by Robert Downey, Jr.); Chic Chicalini (Richard Lewis), both gangster and mayor with a pool he insists on filling; and Floyd (Patrick Dempsey), an exceptionally bright and witty young man who is trapped in a wheelchair by Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hugo’s course ultimately leads to romance and rebirth. It’s a pleasure to see Downey working again at his best, for all too often, films like these can be sadly indulgent. Hugo Pool, however, is a joyful, absurdist delight.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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