By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Paid to give birth.
Tish (Barbara Hershey) is a young, free-spirited women who’s a part of the hippie movement and looking for alternative ways to make money without having to do the usual 9-to-5 job. She becomes aware of the idea of being a surrogate mother hired to give birth to a baby from a couple who cannot have one themselves. The couple in this case are Jay (Sam Groom) and Suzanne (Collin Wilcox Paxton) who are middle-aged and due to a medical complication the wife is unable to have children. They agree to pay Tish an upfront allotment of money as well as covering the rent for the apartment that Tish shares with her boyfriend Tad (Scott Glenn). Things start smoothly enough, but ultimately underlying tensions soon surface like Suzanne’s concern that Tish is getting involved in too much physical activity and with her husband’s seemingly infatuation with the young woman. Tish’s boyfriend also begins to have problems with the agreement especially since Tish has stated she’ll not have sex with him during the course of the 9-month pregnancy.
This was the first film directed by James Bridges, who got his start writing teleplays for the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ TV-show before blossoming into a career helming such critically acclaimed efforts as The Paper Chase and Urban Cowboy. While the film is not perfect I did feel on the technical end it was well done with vivid cinematography that makes the viewer feel quite intimate to both the characters and their setting as well as a good time capsule to how things looked back in that era. The subject matter was quite unique for the period that even had some film critics labeling it as a ‘travesty’ while another called it ‘insufferable’. While I didn’t find it to be either it does show how provocative the issue was and thus overall making it a groundbreaking movie.
More than anything I really enjoyed the performance by Hershey who seems born to play this role and like she’s hardly even acting and instead just being herself. The carefreeness of her character really comes through especially when she decides to impulsively take-off her clothes while in front of the couple whom she’s just met, and jump into their backyard pool. You feel like she’s a perfect composite of most of the flower children back then and highly revealing to what made them tick. What I didn’t like though was how we never learn what gave her the idea to be a surrogate mother and I felt the film should’ve started from this point instead of having her already done it one time before without any backstory to what first gave her the motivation to even consider what at the time was not a typical thing that most people even the young hippies were doing.
I found the supporting characters to less interesting. Glenn, in his film debut, was the most baffling as he plays this overly selfless boyfriend who goes along too graciously with Tish’s idea of having someone else’s baby. Most guys would not be cool with this, or need more time to warm-up to it especially since it would require her sleeping with a married man. Having her then refuse to have sex with him while the pregnancy went on would be way too much for most men to handle, so the fact that he stays with her even after being told this made him seem unrealistic. Had he gotten into the relationship knowing upfront this is what she did for a living then maybe, but she just springs it on him after she’s agreed to the contract, which would’ve made anyone in that same situation quite upset, and justifiably so. I felt too that him ending up sleeping with one of her friends (Helena Kallianiotes) should’ve been understandable given the circumstances and Tish, being the supposedly open-minded, unconventional person that she is, should’ve allowed for it and possibly even invited it instead of growing jealous and throwing blue paint on them like she does.
I had the same issues with the couple. Collin Wilcox Paxton is excellent and light years away from her most famous role of Mayella Violet Ewell, the backwoods southern white woman who falsely accuses a black man of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird, but there’s just not enough tension between her and Tish, or in the scenes with her husband, which is the film’s biggest failing. It seems more concerned with tackling a novel concept in as genteel a way as possible, but in the process forgets that this is a drama and there needs to be conflict going on in order to keep it riveting. Certain potentially explosive problems are brought-up, but then quickly downplayed. There’s no surprise twist or altercation. It leisurely limps itself along to a hum-drum finish that has no impact at all and unfortunately ruins an intriguing concept that could’ve gone in many different, interesting directions, but ultimately doesn’t.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: October 1, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Director: James Bridges
Studio: National General Pictures
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video