DETAILED SYNOPSIS OF MEETING VAN GOGH
Rufus Hockenberry is thirty-six, a mixed-lineage mongrel
American. His passion is to paint. Painting is an act of passion,
of love, of living. He resides in an old ballroom in a gritty Los
Angeles neighborhood invaded by crack. He's on the verge of
success, about to complete his most powerful painting of his first
and only love, Sophie, when she's killed by a drunk driver. His
grief overwhelms him, and he ceases to paint. The unfinished
portrait that includes the dress he gave her on Christmas two days
before her death, is an object of morbid mourning that has
dominated his life for six years.
To make ends meet, Rufus works as a flower delivery driver. In
the process of delivering wreathes for a funeral, Rufus stops to
rescue an old lady who's stranded in a crosswalk. During the
rescue, a hit-and-run vehicle strikes the company van. Rufus calls
in the accident to Carlos, the dispatcher -- who commiserates with
his bad luck, then assigns him to make a last minute delivery to
the Cosmos Gallery where Rufus once had a show.
The crowd for the opening spills onto the sidewalk. Rufus
arrives to discover the opening is for his old friend Dan Fremont,
who's made it big time.
Rufus makes his way through the crowd to deliver the flowers.
Dan recognizes his ex-studio-mate and introduces him to Nora
Hampton, British-Ethiopian employee of the upscale Cosmos Gallery.
Dan waxes nostalgic about the "old days" when he and
Rufus shared the old Paradise Club down in the ghetto. Dan
gestures to Cindy Mu, one of the catering hires, and asks her to
relieve Rufus of the bouquet.
Cindy Mu is thirty-five, first generation Chinese-American, and
a struggling actress who wonders if she'd better give it up. Rufus
becomes instantly enchanted -- and requests permission to paint
her portrait. Cindy dismisses his offer as just another come-on
and turns her attention to an amusing gay actor she once worked
with in an episodic television show. Rufus hangs in the background
drinking wine. He does a quick sketch of her, leaves the sketch
with his number and takes off. Cindy picks up the sketch, starts
to trash it, instead tucks it in her purse.
When Rufus starts the engine of the company van, he realizes
he's in no condition to drive. He calls in to ask Carlos to do him
a favor. His boss answers, is enraged about the earlier accident,
fires him on the spot.
Rufus leaves the van as instructed, takes the bus to his
studio. He reaches his stop just as a quartet of gangbangers is
spraying graffiti over the outside of his studio.
As Rufus is unlocking his door, Leo, a local crack addict,
lopes past with a stolen battery. Rufus attempts to buy the
battery with hopes of returning it to the owner. Leo -- with his
pale face, his tattoos, and his enraged street fighter's stance --
refuses to sell "nothin' to a fuckin' faggot." Rufus
gives up, climbs the stairs to the old ballroom -- gazes at the
chaos of his studio, realizes his life is out of control.
Rufus wakes to the sound of rooster crows and the saxophone
noodling of Henry Hollins, wino street musician. Rufus goes out to
paint over the graffiti, buys some street kids ice-creams from a
pushcart, and notices Leo has company, an innocent named Lily,
Mexican-German, barely eighteen, freshly addicted to crack. When
he tries to speak to her, she flees.
Cindy Mu is working her "day job" at the Cafe
Bagatelle. She leaves a message asking Rufus's how much he would
charge to paint a portrait of her father. Then she proceeds to the
hospital where her father lies in a semi-comatose state watched
over by Cindy's mother.
Rufus rushes to the Cafe Bagatelle only to discover, from
Cindy's Vietnamese friend, Tiffany, that Cindy is at the hospital
visiting her father who's suffered a stroke-induced coma.
Rufus lies in bed listening to Cindy's voice on the answering
machine over and over while Cindy rehearses at a small equity
waver theater far into the night. She's so exhausted her director
questions whether she should continue in the role.
Rufus meets Cindy at the Bagatelle. She explains she has to
cancel her plans for the portrait because she's too broke to pay
him. Rufus tells her he was planning to do the portrait free of
charge. Cindy refuses, still assuming this is only a come-on. Then
Tiffany tells Rufus flat out that Cindy is only interested in
girls. Rufus assures them his only motive is simply to do what he
was born to do -- paint. A skeptical Cindy agrees to provide him
with photographs of her father.
The following day Rufus arrives at the cafe to collect the
photos just as Cindy is leaving to visit the hospital. Rufus
persuades her he should see her father in person. Cindy
reluctantly agrees and Rufus follows in his old blue pickup.
Rufus meets her mother, makes a quick sketch of her comatose
father. Back at his studio, Rufus works like a man possessed.
Cindy agrees to visit the studio and give her opinion. Rufus
cleans up the place as best he can. Cindy refuses his overtures of
hospitality, but duly impressed by the sensitivity of the
portrait. She suggests a "ridiculous spiritual" gesture:
they'll take the painting and "show" it to her comatose
As Cindy is leaving, Lily observes Rufus's soulful gaze as
Cindy's old Volkswagen disappears down the boulevard. Lily
declares he's in love. Rufus scoffs. He invites Lily to share the
supper Cindy refused -- but she's afraid Leo will beat her if she
has anything to do with him.
Rufus and Cindy carry the portrait to the hospital. Rufus lifts
the painting onto the foot of the bed -- and to everyone's
astonishment, a miracle: Mr. Mu's eyes open. Then, another
miracle: he speaks. He's sure Rufus is Vincent Van Gogh whom he
dreamed would paint his portrait.
Cindy and Rufus share a celebratory supper at his studio. Rufus
suppresses his amorous impulses. Cindy is softening, but does
nothing to relieve him of Tiffany's myth that they are lovers.
Cindy takes her father home from the hospital while Rufus adds
finishing touches to the portrait. As he works, he observes a
terrified Lily get into a car -- her first drug trick.
Cindy arrives to view the finished portrait. She's astonished,
moved, grateful -- but feels "too much in debt" despite
Rufus's declaration that letting him do the portrait saved him. As
they eat, they tell life stories, polish off a bottle of wine.
After supper Rufus can't stop himself from a few more
"finishing touches." While watching him work, Cindy
spontaneously agrees to model as a way to "pay" for the
As Rufus is preparing his canvas, Cindy, assuming Rufus would
want to paint her nude, undresses. Rufus is astonished, nervously
begins a portrait that parallels the unfinished portrait of
Sophie. His inspired trance is broken by the sound of shattering
glass. He rushes out and discovers Leo has vandalized Cindy's car.
A crestfallen Rufus apologies to Cindy, and takes
responsibility for fixing everything. The situation forces her to
spend the night. Rufus gives her the bed, he sleeps chastely on
the sofa. Cindy wakes to find a note promising her car will be
back by noon. Rufus is good to his word -- her car is restored.
Cindy gives him tickets to her opening night performance.
A full house gives Cindy a standing ovation, including Tiffany
and Rufus, both in love with its star performer.
Rufus looks for a job at the unemployment office, then heads
out to work on his epic panoramic landscape of Los Angeles. While
he's "on location", his old pal Henry Hollins, the
street musician, happens by. They catch up on their lives, and
Rufus gives Henry a last few dollars to help bail his sax out of
Rufus returns to the studio, finds Cindy waiting. Her new agent
has given her a cellular phone. Rufus is upbeat, his painting is
flowing again. After a happy supper, Cindy undresses to model.
Rufus works and Cindy poses in the same chair Sophie sat in years
before. She drinks wine, passes out. For the first time Rufus
studies her beauty with unabashed arousal. Cindy wakes, doesn't
seem to mind his closeness. Suddenly there's a downpour.
The leaky roof sends them both scurrying around putting out
drip pans. The leaking-roof "dance" ends with them
tangled in a kiss after Cindy confesses to a perplexed Rufus that
Tiffany's story about her only liking girls was a protective myth.
Cindy encourages Rufus to make love to her -- but only if he first
agrees they will remain "just friends."
Cindy and Rufus continue to be "friends." A week
before Christmas, her agent shows up with the opportunity of a
lifetime -- a featured role in a major series to be shot in
Rufus trades a painting for a Christmas tree and is busy
decorating when Nora Hampton, now the curator of the Cosmos
gallery, arrives to tell Rufus they want to arrange for a
Hockenberry one-man show over the summer. Rufus can't believe his
luck. His high spirits infect Cindy, and fearful of hurting him,
she neglects to reveal her own good news. Nora thanks Cindy for
inspiring him and departs. Cindy suggests Rufus should paint Nora
-- and take advantage of Nora's attraction, then gives him her
Christmas gift -- five Windsor - Newton brushes. Rufus is moved to
the core -- and gives Cindy his gift -- the beautiful flower-print
dress that had once been Sophie's -- thus completing his mourning.
Cindy is flattered, but uneasy. Rufus persuades her to try it
on. As she changes, Rufus puts on his costume for his temp job as
a mall Santa. This leads to a discussion of children that ends
with Cindy and Rufus agreeing they would be hard-pressed to be
responsible for another life. Rufus takes off to work without
Cindy ever telling him about her great fortune that will take her
away from him.
Cindy calls Tiffany and asks her to come to Rufus's studio to
help decorate the tree while Rufus is at work. Tiffany arrives,
breaks down at the thought of Cindy leaving for Vancouver, asks
how Rufus took the news. Cindy confesses she hasn't had the heart
to tell him. The two women polish off a bottle of wine and end up
passed out together in bed.
Rufus returns from work, is met by Leo and Lily -- both high on
crack. Leo makes sarcastic jibes, calling Rufus the "faggot
Santa." Rufus confronts Leo, telling him to take his act to
another neighborhood and leave Lily be. Lily is grateful, but too
afraid to take Rufus up on his offer to come inside.
Rufus enters the studio, anxious to know the "news"
Cindy had promised to tell him upon his return. He observes the
empty wine bottle -- sees Cindy and Tiff asleep together. He's
both aroused and touched. As he's retiring on the sofa, Cindy
wakes. She calls him into the bed, tells him not to worry, Tiffany
sleeps like a log.
Cindy insists on making love beside the sleeping Tiffany, and
during their quiet joining, Rufus persuades Cindy to tell the
news. She tells him only that she's won the part of Lieutenant
Detective Woo, star of "Naked Streets" -- but still
fails to tell him they'll be shooting in Vancouver. As they
consummate their lovemaking, Tiffany snuggles against them both as
if endorsing their togetherness.
While the trio of friends sleep, Leo and a pair of fellow
addicts, vandalize Rufus's truck despite protests from Lily.
In the morning Rufus wakes beside the still sleeping Tiffany --
finds a note from Cindy telling him she's delivering presents to
her parents. As he's preparing coffee, Tiffany awakes and
immediately gets teary. Rufus wonders why and Tiffany reveals
Cindy is going to Vancouver. Rufus is shocked, tries to dismiss
the distance as he comforts Tiffany.
Closing night of the play. Cindy is showered with accolades,
already a "star." When Rufus finally has a moment with
her, he offers her the portrait. Cindy reminds him she's leaving,
has no place to put it. Rufus quickly bows out.
Rufus can't help himself, he goes to the airport on the day of
her departure. He watches the studio limousine drop Cindy off. He
starts to chase after her -- at the last second, he turns away
just as she turns in his direction.
Rufus tries to lose himself in work. As he continues with his
gigantic cityscape, Henry the Wino happens by with his
fresh-out-of-hock saxophone. They sing their little blues ditty,
"all situations are temporary."
Back at the studio, another lonely night of wine with the dying
Christmas tree. Rufus speaks to his portrait of Cindy, as if she
could hear him. In desperation, he bribes Lily to come up to model
for him. Lily assumes this is just a ploy for sex and confesses to
Rufus she would love to do it with a "nice guy" for a
change. Lily keeps making overtures, until Rufus gently explains
he's "engaged." Lily assumes that Rufus really must be
gay, like Leo says, because no one in their right mind would pay
her just to sit in a chair.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, Cindy is sitting in a chair as well--
in the lobby of an abortion clinic. She reads the literature,
signs the forms. The doctor is late. Cindy suddenly changes her
mind -- leaves.
Months later. Rufus returns to his studio with his gigantic
cityscape making slow progress. He makes another appointment with
Lily, heads upstairs. The Christmas tree is still up, his studio a
shambles. Rufus listens to a message from his landlord agreeing to
trade the portrait of Cindy for three months rent.
Cindy's father dies. Rufus goes to the Wong funeral home to pay
his respects. Cindy is happy to see him, tries to give him a
check. She tells him it's from her father, payment for the
portrait. Rufus refuses it, reminds her she paid for it already by
modeling for him. Cindy wants to tell him she's pregnant, but is
fearful his sense of responsibility will be a terrible burden to
him. Instead she invites him to the funeral diner. Rufus declines
knowing he would embarrass her with his longing. They embrace,
attempting to suppress their emotion during what seems a final
Rufus struggles to paint, clinging to his last bit of sanity.
He's outside working on the giant landscape, when civil unrest
breaks out. He escapes the riots and returns to his studio where
Leo has forced Lily into helping him ambush Rufus under the
mistaken impression that Rufus must be a middle-man drug dealer.
Rufus invites Lily to come in and Leo hits him from behind with a
tire iron, knocking him unconscious. Lily is horrified, tries to
stop Leo -- but he forces her at gunpoint to come up and show him
where the "stash" is. Lily has no idea what he's talking
about. "All he does is paint pictures," she tells him.
Leo refuses to believe it. He threatens to kill her. Lily bites
his hand, manages to escape with Leo firing at her.
While Rufus lays unconscious, Leo continues his search. He
finds uncashed checks sent by Cindy, proof in his mind Rufus was
part of a Chinese drug ring. The electricity goes out. Leo lights
a fire in a trash can to use as a torch. He continues his made
search, comes up empty. Enraged, he kicks the basket. It rolls
against the dead Christmas tree which bursts into flame. Leo
The city burns. The fire department rescues the unconscious
Rufus from the alcove of the Paradise Club. He's transported to
County hospital where he lays in a coma for three months.
Mr. Lee, the landlord, finds mail addressed to Rufus that
includes letters from Cindy and Nora Hampton dumped inside the
security door of the burnt-out brick shell that was once the
When Rufus regains consciousness, he isn't quite all there. But
he convinces the social worker that he'll be fine, his only wish
is to return to his studio.
Rufus gets off at the familiar bus stop -- but is baffled to
find the Paradise Club nothing more than a cement slab in a vacant
lot. He sits on the bus bench staring into space, paralyzed by
indecision. A john drops Lily off by the bus stop. She thinks
she's seeing a ghost, as do the two little kids Rufus used to buy
ice creams from the paletas.
Lily invites Rufus to come to her garage-apartment for
something to "make him happy." Rufus explains "that
part of me" doesn't work any more. Another one of Lily's john
pulls up, and a wistful Lily says goodbye to Rufus.
In Vancouver, Cindy gives birth to their son she names Vincent.
Tiffany is in attendance. Cindy reminds her she must never tell
Rufus -- and that she Tiffany is the surrogate "dad."
Rufus works as a shopping cart jockey at a big mall. He's
pushing a huge line of carts. A late model Jaguar pulls in front
of him. The driver is Gloria Steele with Dan Fremont as her
passenger. Both Dan and Rufus are sufficiently changed that they
are unsure they recognize each other. And Gloria squelches any
possibility of further communication.
Rufus settles into a small oceanside apartment and does quick
sketches on the boardwalk, providing a low-budget living. He has
inherited a white rat, the pet of a boy who died in a swimming
accident whose mother adores Rufus.
Several years pass. Rufus gradually regains his faculties and
settles into a happy enough existence as the primo beachfront
quick-sketch artist -- back where he started. Henry Hollins often
sets up and plays his sax nearby, passing the hat.
One day, a boy about seven runs up to his easel and asks if he
can draw something. Rufus happily consents, aroused by the boy's
enthusiasm. The boy's mother calls to him. It's Cindy Mu. Her hair
is short, but she's as radiant as ever. She instantly recognizes
Rufus whom she had thought had disappeared off the face of the
Rufus is dumbstruck -- and joyous to see her again. He tries to
disguise his emotion by offering to do a quick sketch of mother
and her son. As he works, under Cindy's questioning, he reveals
the tragic loss of his life's work. Tears stream down Cindy's
face. Rufus remembers seeing her on TV, makes a joke about her
"kicking derriere" as a tough cop. They share a laugh
and Cindy, despite herself, reveals to him that the boy who is
happily drawing away beside them, is their son she couldn't bear
to tell him about. Rufus is dumbstruck -- fearful and happy. The
trio falls into a happy communion as they walk off together with a
sense there could possibly be a life together as a family ahead.