By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: My heart is full.
Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Joanne Woodward) is a single-mother raising two girls while living in the poor side of Staten Island. She is an extremely self-centered, emotionally frail woman who’s bitter about life and alienates everyone that she meets. Ruth (Roberta Wallach) is her rebellious teenage daughter who recognizes her mother’s flawed personality and tries to distance herself from her. Matilda (Nell Potts) is the quiet, introspective daughter who takes in all the chaos while escaping by concentrating on her school science projects particularly the one involving marigolds, but as things progress Beatrice’s mental state becomes more erratic and threatens to tear their lives completely apart.
Actor Paul Newman directs on a tour-de-force level. Absolutely everything comes together while still keeping it on a subtle, visual level. The opening sequences gives the viewer a clear picture of the family’s strife and divergent personalities without ever having to go into any type of verbal backstory, which is great filmmaking at its finest. Although filmed in Bridgeport, Connecticut one still gets a good feeling of a poor inner-city neighborhood with the house that was chosen for the setting looking authentically cluttered without appearing staged. The variety of settings has a cinema verite feel while also remaining true to Paul Zindel’s script. Yet Newman’s greatest achievement is the fact that he creates a wholly unlikable main character that the viewer ends up still feeling quite sorry for and the climactic scene inside the school’s auditorium becomes emotionally wrenching.
Woodward excels in a difficult role and creates a character that becomes permanently etched in the viewer’s mind. Her brilliance comes through from the very beginning with the way she chews her gum while trying on some wigs and her never ending stream of caustic remarks runs the gamut of being rude and insensitive to darkly humorous. Although she was nominated for best actress with the Golden Globes and won the award at the Cannes for her work here she really should have been given the Academy Award as well.
Wallach, who is the daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, is terrific in her film debut and has some memorable moments not only when she has a seizure, but also later when she plays a caricature of her mother for a school play. Potts, who is Newman’s and Woodward’s daughter, is quite good too especially with her stunning clear blue eyes and facial expressions.
Judith Lowry, who made a name for herself in her later years playing cantankerous old ladies, is outstanding as an old woman who rents a room from Beatrice. Although she frustratingly never says a word her moments are still unforgettable especially with the way Newman focuses on her wrinkled face and toothless mouth as she sips drinks or even hobbles her way to the bathroom.
Zindel’s story was originally a stage play and in fact Carolyn Coates who is cast as Mrs. McKay here played the Beatrice role in one of the stage versions. Most teenagers from the 70’s and 80’s will recognize Paul Zindel’s name as the author of ‘Pigman’, which was required reading in many high schools during that era. Yet I liked this story, which is based loosely on his experiences while growing up, even better and it’s a real shock that it has never been released on an American DVD as it definitely should be!
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: December 20, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes
Director: Paul Newman
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD (Region 2)
Posted in 70's Movies, Adolescence/High School, Drama, Dry Humor, Movies Based on Stageplays, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Obscure Movies
Tagged Joanne Woodward, Judith Lowry, Movies, Nell Potts, Paul Newman, Paul Zindel, Review, Roberta Wallach
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Housewife has secret fantasies.
Margaret (Barbra Streisand) is a neglected housewife taking care of her two children while her husband Paul (David Selby) busily works on his novel and thesis. She lives in a rundown New York apartment that seems to have bugs crawling from everywhere. Her nagging mother (Jane Hoffman) pressures her to move back with them to the suburbs, but she enjoys the excitement and independence of city life over lily white suburbia, so she resists. Now she finds that she is pregnant with her third child and this along with the other stresses causes her to slip into secret fantasies that become more and more outlandish.
This film didn’t do well upon its initial release and is a bit forgotten, but deserves a look simply for its unique and memorable fantasy segments. The scene where she joins a black militant group that gets inside the Statue of Liberty and wires it with explosives is pretty good as is the part at a party where her stomach suddenly balloons out as if she is pregnant and when she pushes it in it makes her breasts larger. The scene where she meets a Fidel Castro-like dictator who takes off his shirt to expose that he has female breasts is funny and the finale that takes place inside an abortion clinic is interesting. The best though is when she is captured by an African tribe of topless women. The shot of their grossly overweight leader whose gigantic, sagging breasts seem to overlap her entire body ends up being the film’s most lasting image.
Hoffman is hilarious and a perfect caricature of a meddling mother of adult children. The part where Margaret fantasies about stuffing her mother’s face into an anniversary cake and then the two roll around on the floor where Margaret then punches her in the face had me laughing-out-loud.
Paul Zindel’s script nicely balances the fantasy with the gritty reality of urban living. It also envelopes the feminist issues with the social upheaval of the times and the speech that Margaret gives about women needing to be less like men and more like themselves is excellent.
Director Irvin Kerschner makes fine use of the New York locales giving the viewer an eclectic taste of its crowded neighborhoods and street culture as well as its epic skyline. I loved the cinema vertite style that has a sophisticated and trendy feel.
Streisand herself seems to be having a lot of fun and purportedly this is her favorite out of all the films that she has done. This was just before she went through her frizzy hair phase and the long straight style that she has here I feel makes her look sexy.
The pace is unusual especially for a comedy in that it isn’t frantic and does not have any quick edits. Instead the set-ups are quite slow and seem at times to be almost dramatic before throwing in a surprise punchline. Personally I liked this approach, but the unconventional style might have proved confusing to certain audience members who didn’t know what genre to place it in and may have been the reason for the poor box office returns, which is shame as the production overall is excellent and intriguing.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 21, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes
Director: Irvin Kerschner
Studio: National General Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD
Posted in 70's Movies, Black Comedy, Movies Based on Novels, Movies that take place in the Big Apple, Movies with Nudity, Surreal/Fantasy
Tagged Barbra Streisand, Entertainment, Irvin Kershner, Jane Hoffman, Movies, Paul Zindel, Review