By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Drama at summer home.
Layne (Mia Farrow) has decided to spend the summer at the country home of her mother’s (Elaine Stritch) in order to recuperate after a suicide attempt. With her during her stay is her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest). Layne is also madly in-love with her neighbor Peter (Sam Waterston) who is a struggling author who wants to write a book about Layne’s mother’s life, who was at one time a well-known actress, but who also shot her late husband in self-defense though it was reportedly Layne who pulled the trigger. Howard (Denholm Elliott) is Layne’s other neighbor who is smitten with her though she has no feelings for him as all of her emotions are tucked away towards Peter, who is more into Stephanie, a married woman with children. During the course of one night while an electrical storm occurs and the power goes out everyone makes their true feelings for the other known, but not everyone responds to the revelations the way they’d like.
This movie is unusual, or at least the behind-the-scenes production, in that two to three versions of every scene was shot and then writer/director Woody Allen took all the footage and edited it together only to be dissatisfied with the final result and decided to shoot it again, but with different actors. In the original production Charles Durning played Layne’s stepfather, but in the second version he is replaced by Jack Warden, and Maureen O’Sullivan played Layne’s mother. Since Maureen was Mia’s real-life mother it’s ashame she wasn’t kept on for the second version. Granted Elaine is excellent, but seeing a mother and daughter acting together would’ve given an interested added nuance that unfortunately gets lost with the redo.
The scenario has its share of intriguing elements, but Allen’s concept of trying to create a filmed stageplay was a mistake as the whole thing has a very static feel right from the start. The internal conflicts are not apparent right away and the first act comes-off like nothing more than lingering conversations with no idea what connects them until the second act kicks, but by that time some viewers may have already gotten bored with it. In Interiors, which was Allen’s first drama, the story clicked quickly because there was a main nemesis, which helped create the tension that’s lacking here. Having a few more characters including a couple that was invited over, but calls-in when their house gets flooded, could’ve helped enliven things.
The acting is uniformly excellent especially Farrow, who’s always had a gift for playing vulnerable characters though with this one she’s more assertive. Wiest is fabulous too though with her super short brunette haircut she looks too similar to Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby and for that reason she should’ve been given a different hairstyle. The short cut also makes Wiest’s squinty look where she constantly appears like someone who’s just walked into bright sunlight, more apparent. The male cast is overall wasted. Warden gets one poignant moment where he describes the cold, lonely universe, but otherwise doesn’t have much else to say, or do and overall gets dominated and upstaged by the caustic and brassy Stritch as his wife. Elliot has one good line early on, but then disappears for a good chunk of it only to get a walk-on towards the end, but by that point I had quite literally forgotten all about him.
The film would’ve worked better had it had stronger character arcs, but overall not much really happens. There’s brief moments of confrontations, particularly Layne’s arguments with her mother, where things appear to be getting juicy only to have them pull back and become civil again. Same thing happens when Layne catches Stephanie with Peter, a slight blow-up and then back to mundane. The characters don’t really grow, or change and everything gets treated like a minor, little tiff that quickly blows-over making the viewer feel at the end that there wasn’t much point in watching it.
On a side note I was also disappointed to learn that the whole thing was shot on an indoor sound stage. With the title of September and the location being Vermont I was fully expecting sights of beautiful fall foliage as the northeast can be one of the best areas for that during the autumn. Since Allen’s dramas can get quite talky I thought the scenic locale could help at least visually fill-in the slow spots, but we ultimately get none of that. The intention was to shoot it at Farrow’s Connecticut country house, the house had inspired Allen to write the screenplay in the first place, but by the time he was finished with the script it was already winter and thus the autumn look and feel would’ve been lost. Credit though should go to the lighting and set design as you still get a feel of Vermont during the night time scenes where you hear realistic sounds of crickets and night bugs outside. The light coming through the windows certainly looks like actual sunlight, but why would people keep their blinds closed when most anyone would have them open to take in the majestic countryside. Why bother even having a home in the country if the idea is to close the windows off from it? It’s also not logical for the sunlight to be shining through all the windows from any direction in the house as the sun can only be in one place in the sky, so some of the windows should not have had sunlight coming through though here all of them do.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 18, 1987
Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Studio: Orion Pictures
Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, YouTube