3 Women (1977)

3 women 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three women share bond.

Pinky (Sissy Spacek) is a young woman still searching for an identity who gets a job at a senior health spa. She becomes attracted to one of the trainers there named Mille (Shelley Duvall) and when Millie posts a notice that she is looking for a roommate Pinky is the first to respond. Since Millie is quite lonely she initially enjoys the attention that Pinky gives her and her still adolescent tendencies coincides with Millie’s paternal ones. Things though turn rocky and when Millie kicks Pinky out of the apartment in a rage Pinky responds by attempting to commit suicide by drowning herself. After she is saved the two begin to switch identities with Pinky becoming more aggressive and snarky while Millie becomes the passive one. Their merging identities also includes Willie (Janice Rule) a pregnant bar owner whose provocative murals hold an entrancing grip on Pinky.

This cerebral film, which was produced without any type of script and based solely on some of Robert Altman’s dreams was made during the director’s heyday when he could literally get just about anything he wanted financed by a movie studio. In fact it was while driving to catch a plane that Altman told his traveling partner to stop off at the studio so he could pitch this idea to the them, which he assured him would only take ‘a few minutes’, which it did. Even though it became a critical darling it did poorly at the box office and was in and out of the theaters in a matter of a few weeks.

Overall I’m a big fan of Altman’s work, but found this one to run longer than needed with what seemed like a lot of extraneous dialogue much of which was ad-libbed by the performers. The idea that people can shift between being passive or aggressive at any given time depending on the circumstances is an interesting one and I certainly enjoyed the murals, which were made specifically for the film, but the appropriated title should’ve been ‘2 women’ instead of 3 as Rule’s character barely says anything and is hardly seen at all.

Spacek gives the best performance and in my opinion she was the best thing about the movie. Duvall is good too and it was entertaining to see her playing more of the grounded one as usually she’s cast as the kooky types. I also thought it was cool that both Duvall’s and Spacek’s characters where from the same hometown’s in Texas as the actresses were with Duvall’s being Houston and Spacek’s was Quitman.

It is also fun seeing Dennis Christopher in an early career role appearing late in the film as a delivery man. Altman also casts real-life couple John Cromwell and Ruth Nelson as Pinky’s parents. Both Cromwell, who is also the father of actor James Cromwell, and Nelson were blacklisted in the 50’s during the McCarthy era and in fact this marked Nelson’s first film appearance in 29 years.

The dream sequence is cool, but everything else comes off like a weak version of Persona, which was far superior. The surreal ending leaves too much open to personal interpretation, which was frustrating. I also thought it was dumb that Millie reads Pinky’s diary entries out loud like she is a second grader and they really should’ve had her do it as a voice-over. It was also the first childbirth I had ever seen were the baby comes out of the womb without an umbilical cord.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

2 responses to “3 Women (1977)

  1. Nice to see a review of this little known film which made quite an impression on me when I saw it in the mid-70s as a 19-year old ingenue, fresh from the country and starting with Arthouse instead of Mainstream. It was my first Altman as well, plus the first time I heard Sissy Spacek’s grating cadences. I was drawn into the atmosphere of the film, the striking images, sounds, silences and sad emptiness of the characters. I always had a soft spot for it, though I suspect that if I saw it again, I might be disabused of my affection. Still 6 out of 10 sounds pretty good. Of course Persona was superior, and more coherent, but 3 Women might still be ok on a hot dreamy day.

  2. Artsy fartsy. Duvall and Spacek are terrific though.

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