By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: A couple drifting apart.
Sally and Martin Cramer (Marlo Thomas, Charles Grodin) are a middle-aged, married couple whose relationship is slowly drifting apart. They were once connected through their youth and idealism, but now Martin is older and more cynical. He just wants to settle down and live the quiet life as he feels ‘the world is not worth saving’. Sally is still the idealist, she teaches at an inner-city school and even wants to adopt a young African-American boy, which Martin does not want because of the boy’s propensity to steal things. Sally is also pregnant and considering an abortion. The film consists mainly with them arguing about these issues while considering divorce and having affairs.
The film did not go over well with the critics at the time of its release and I was surprised because it was written by renowned playwright Herb Gardner. I was impressed with Gardner’s talents after seeing the film A Thousand Clowns, which was based on one of his plays. I enjoyed his offbeat characters and situations as well as the sharp one-liners. I was expecting more of the same here, but found this to be flat and slow going. The idea of having a couple argue almost endlessly for the entire movie can be tough to pull off, but has been successfully done. Most notably in Made for Each Other starring real-life husband and wife Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor as well as Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?. However, in both of those films the characters were eccentric and interesting and their fights were lively and animated. Here the characters are dull to the point that there is really no reason to care how their marriage turns out, or even what happens to them. Their arguments become almost soap opera like. Yes, some of the dialogue is eloquent and you can tell it was done by a playwright, but there still needed to be more action and cutaways. The overall mood of the film is very downbeat and paints the city of New York and modern life in general as an urban hellhole. There could be some truth to this, but it ends up becoming real depressing when the viewer gets beaten over the head with it the whole time.
Although billed as a comedy there is very little of it. The majority is heavy drama and the comedy that they do have comes off as forced, unimaginative, and heavily reliant on stereotypes. For instance Sally makes all her inner-city students put their weapons into a box before they enter her class. I thought it would have been more believable had one of them decided to use them on her, but they never do. Despite the ‘rough and tough’ image the kids seem strangely compliant. Martin is a principal at a snotty private school, so his problems are at the other end. One scene has him ‘negotiating’ with a spoiled ten year old to come out of his limousine and into class, which is equally contrived. There is also the strange neighbor who lives in the apartment beneath theirs and is played by actor Hector Elizondo. He makes random, weird comments throughout that supposedly are used for comic relief, but end becoming quickly irritating.
I thought it would be fun to see Marlo Thomas in a film role as she has done very few of them in her career. She is most well-known for playing the part of Ann Marie the struggling actress in the 60’s TV-series That Girl. Her character was known to be very naïve and proper in that series. Here her character is more jaded and savvy, which makes for an interesting comparison although she is known as a feminist and liberal activist in real-life, so if anything this character more closely identifies with her true personality. She does end up giving an excellent performance overall. Charles Grodin does not fare as well. Usually his sardonic humor and dry approach can elevate even the blandest material, but here the maudlin script ends up pulling him down. Even Grodin fans who have seen this film stated that he seems to be just going through the motions. I also didn’t like the fact that he has a flute and ends up constantly playing the same sad tune. Noted character actors Gary Merrill and Mercedes McCambridge appear as homeless people, but are not given a single line of dialogue, which I found to be frustrating and a waste of their talents.
If there is one positive thing to say about this dreary production that has no visual or cinematic style it is in the presence of Irwin Corey, who plays Sally’s racist and scatological father. He manages to liven up all the scenes that he is in and I came away impressed as he is mainly a stand-up comedian famous for his bawdy Professor Irwin Corey act. I was even more impressed to find that as of this writing he is still alive and well at the ripe old age of 97 and still doing his comedy act while married to the same woman for over 70 years. A documentary about his life and career called Irwin and Fran is set to be released later this year. Judging just from the trailer it looks more interesting and enjoyable than this film.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: February 11, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Director: John Berry
Available: Netflix Streaming