By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Housewives lust for poet.
Gowan (Tom Conti) is a middle-aged poet going through writer’s block who hasn’t written anything in 5 years and manages to remain solvent by touring around a college town and reciting his older writings to women’s clubs. The stress though of not being able to produce anything new causes him to turn to alcohol and further rescinds his writing ability. Geneva (Kelly McGillis) is a college student several years his junior who spots him on a train one day and agrees to pay his fare when he’s found not to have any money. This generosity manages to have a profound affect on him and he makes a commitment to mend his ways while also going out with Geneva on casual dates. The awkward love affair doesn’t go far as Gowan continues to drink and embarrass her every time they go out. When Geneva finds out she’s pregnant the two then must decide how they will proceed.
Unusual romantic flick that has all the ingredients of failing, but manages somehow to have a certain light appeal. Much of this is thanks to McGillis, who in her film debut really shines and while this film is not one of her better known ones I still consider it her best work. Normally film’s dealing with May-December romances don’t work because the younger partner is always portrayed as being wide-eyed and naïve, but here it’s Geneva that’s the sensible one who calls all the shots and remains in control. This change of pace gives the old theme a refreshing new spin and made it palatable enough to hold my interest and in certain moments even becomes touching.
Conti gives a good performance, but he seems more like a caricature. He wears the same dowdy outfit all the way through making me wonder if that was the only suit he owned and if so whether he reeked of odor. I found it hard to believe that this guy, who looks like he was living on the streets, would attract all these frustrated housewives who’d be rushing to go to bed with him. With all the alcohol he consumed I’d have serious questions whether he’d be able to perform, or how sex with him could possibly be much better than with their husbands as I would think it might actually be worse.
Supposedly this was all meant as ‘satire’ and based loosely on the life of Dylan Thomas. Possibly in book form, as this was based on the novel of the same name by Peter De Vries and then later turned into a stage play, it might’ve worked, but as a film set in the modern day it’s confounding. Thomas hit his fame in the 30’s and 40’s when movies and television where just getting started and therefore writers held more clout, but by the 80’s there were so many other types of celebrities that some frumpy looking drunk guy who used big words to create long poems wouldn’t be someone a suburban housewife would get all that excited over. The opening sequence shows the reactions on their faces as they listen to him recite some of his writings and while one of them has a confused look on her face I felt they all should’ve and for my money that would’ve been really funny.
The finale, which Leonard Maltin in his review calls ‘curious’, but I’d describe more as ill-advised is the one thing that really hurts it. I’m not sure what the thinking was other than Dylan Thomas died young so possibly they felt Gowan needed to die too, but it was the wrong decision. Normally I get annoyed with movies that tack-on a happy ending and have everything work-out even when it’s not earned, but this film works in reverse by throwing in a very sad one that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie, which for the most part had been quite whimsical.
The way it gets done is pretty dumb too as he elects to hang himself inside his apartment after he finds out all of his top teeth, many of which have been rotting for years due to neglect, would have to be removed. While losing teeth is no one’s idea of fun it does happen to a lot of folks of all ages and dentures (this was made before the advent of implants) if fitted properly aren’t always that noticeable, so to kill yourself over something like that seemed awfully rash.
Just as he’s about to hang himself he gets inspired again to write and even excited about finding new women to sleep with, but then a lovable sheep dog named Reuben runs into the room (you’d think someone planning to kill himself would have the sense to shut his door and lock it) and being overly affectionate jumps-up and knocks down the chair that he’s standing on, which comes-off as being more farcical than anything. I was fully expecting the wooden beam that the rope was tied around to break from the stress of all the weight, which in reality I think it would, but instead it doesn’t and he’s left hanging leaving me genuinely baffled. For such an otherwise light and quirky movie to end this way was very jarring.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: December 19, 1983
Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes
Director: Robert Ellis Miller
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD, Blu-ray