To be fair Shriley MacLaine was never my idea of a fantasy playmate, and while she manages to produce several distinctive looks and characters in this little collage of short plays, they are mostly unattractive, mousy people, despondent, mistaken and pitiable. There’s not much that’s sexy or compelling about pitiable. I only say this because all the promotion for this film seems to lead one to imagining we’re in for a sexual romp involving adultery and steamy romantic sequences. Put your hopes aside, no such fun happens in this string of off-the-wall “Love American Style” type tales. The lobby card touting it’s naughtiness is just plain lying.
There are two stand-out tales, the first involving a sweet wife of an author who has clearly become wholly involved with a fictional character he has created for his novel. The fellow can’t see that his wife is desperately ruined by his devotion and respect for a woman he invented and she can’t compete with. By the end of this silly and sad little tale a doctor has been brought into assess the poor sweetie’s strangely adopted behaviors which are meant to be as compelling as her husband’s invented women . . . ugh. The second one involves Alan Arkin, who is mesmerizing in the role of a kind of beat fellow (seriously Arkin is always amazing) bonded with Shirley’s down-and-out character toward a suicide pact! Hilarious, right?! They are basically holed up in a crumby hotel room, which in case you weren’t convinced is a dive literally has the word “shit” written on the wall in French, while going over their mismatched idealized death. It turns out that they don’t really feel the same about much, including how to do it. Arkin brought a pistol, MacLaine pills. Funny stuff, right? Essentially they manage, like really intense teenagers, to overcome the actual need to die and seem to just enjoy the process of the plans enough that they live another day. Sorry to give that one away, but it seemed necessary.
In only one of the tales does Shirley get to perform as a sexy, desirable playmate who rather instigates the arousal, and then the humor is in the boys fighting over her. It’s kind of a bummer to have to feel sorry for her characters which while they may be real enough do nothing to really forward any kind of strength or responsibility for or in women in general, which I thought the title was implying. Makers of the film seem to prefer total naive innocence to anything like a real human being capable of founding their own desires and driving toward their own goals. I suppose this is also an aspect of the super popular barely mature and clearly immature women who inhabit the Japanese anime spaces and never can be anything more than reacting pretty things bumping like inert sexy pinballs around a world that they have zero effect on. Having said that, sometimes, that kind of thing makes sense in fantasy, horror, or science-fiction, but in a tales of ladies living in regular modern cities, and interacting with regular dullards, spending regular money, doing regular things in a world that is entirely familiar is flat and, again, pitiable.
Intelligence isn’t necessarily succeeding in the world around you and navigating it, it’s something along the lines of understanding–at minimum–the world around us and what we can expect from our actions and plans, and being able to persevere despite the rawness of most of our failings. There’s something too terribly ancient in this cloying idea that women can’t achieve this and that they need to rely on men for their happiness. Again the idea and the pursuance of it are unattractive. Hell, I tend to think of strippers and sex workers as having more on the ball than that. And while in many cases I’d probably be wrong, especially when the little entrepreneurs are so young and basically naive about the workings of an industry that just eats them up like crackers, it’s basically harmless silly dream crushing instilled by too much fashion, television, and stylish music video.
Getting to the end of this film was a chore, but at least the last few tales were the better ones.
This one costs you 4 dollars on Prime, but I don’t recommend it unless you’re a hardcore MacLaine fan (who for me is best remembered as being the spooky nutcase who was pushing trepanation for spiritual inspiration back in the 80s!) . Probably better to rewatch Irma la Douce.