By  on September 19, 1994

Michael Tolkin, author of "The Player," "The Rapture" and several novels with emptiness and loss as their themes, wants everybody to know he's not cynical.

"It's not that I'm about emptiness and loss," he explains in a New York hotel suite where he's promoting his new film, "The New Age," which is predictably about -- emptiness and loss. It's also a comedy. "It's that emptiness and loss make good stories," he explains. "The way people live now leads to emptiness and loss. That's not my fault."

It amuses Tolkin that people expect him to be a curmudgeon.

"I was at the Telluride Film Festival, and this man saw me smiling. He said, 'I've never seen a picture of you smiling.' I started to wonder if I should change my image. I'm actually a happy person. Well -- at least half the time. Only a happy person is capable of a movie like 'The New Age.' Most of the people in Hollywood are in despair; that's why they make the average comedy or action movie. You can tell from those films these people are devoid of wit, or satisfaction with their family."

The couple in "The New Age," played by Peter Weller and Judy Davis, are married L.A. yuppies who lose their groovy lucrative jobs and wind up suddenly down and out, both financially and spiritually. So they go beyond the favored activity of depressed yuppies -- shopping -- and open a trendy, shockingly expensive boutique just at the moment when everybody starts to tighten their Gucci belts. In the end, they have to turn to the New Age movement to soothe their aching souls.

"This is a movie," Tolkin explains, "about people living on borrowed money. The whole country's in debt. How many people do you know who aren't 30 or 60 days away from financial ruin? These people think that good taste will protect them from anything bad happening to them. That their furniture, clothing, art are all amulets -- and it's very difficult to resist the religion of the purchase. This whole thing was all caused by some combination of Vanity Fair and Nancy Reagan. Good taste has become the religion in America."

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