I Saw A Film!
A standard Neil Simon comedy, befitting of the time. The formula was not quite as silly as Lucy, not quite as neurotic as Woody Allen, and perhaps somewhat less madcap than Buck Henry’s ideals with Barbara (cute prostitutes befitting Irma la Douce). Watching Fonda and Redford slog through these scenarios, some of which are so childish and quaint as to be almost begging the idea that the thing is for real. But OK it’s comedy of a sort and we’re not to be taking it too seriously, but honestly it makes Butterflies are Free come across like a documentary about Haight Ashbury. This is a frivolous fantasy about a youngish couple moving to NYC to follow the new lawyer’s opportunity. Sensible enough, but the concerns of the tiny apartment at the top of five stories, with a hole in the skylight in February does not quite elicit the pain such a travesty would actually entail. I’ve woken under New England ill-fitting windows with a dusting of snow on the inside. It hurts in ways that demand revisiting certain choices about your life. Fonda’s Mother arrives, flushed and out of breath, taking pain pills and stating that she wants to kill herself with a knife. Now that respects the long view.
At one point our heroes are discussing the oddballs that live in the building, the first is a same sex couple, and the joke goes not much further. The fun is with a character, named Mr. Velasco, living on the roof. Soon enough arrangements for a party with single mom and this colorful fellow in a kimono ensue. I’m much more interested in their story!
Back to the analysis. Women in these films were required to portray these kooky sweethearts who don’t seem to quite understand the realities of the world and somehow manage to subsume the suffering into an idealization of growth and beauty. It verges on the stupid, cringe-worthy and insulting. When Redford is explaining to his cute wife that he needs to get back to work because he’s landed a case, she pulls off her blouse and shakes her boobs around, trying to get his ,then she pouts when he insists he needs to work. This isn’t cute, it’s immature. It’s not as bad as Barbs in The Owl and the Pussycat, the wackiness, meant to be cute, is actually psychopathic. But the similarities are strong enough to impress a kind of style: hysterical adorable women and their very sensible reasonable straight men.
Soon, Simon has the couple cavorting with Albanians (through Mr. Valasco on the roof), NYC possibility, no doubt, but, of course, so much about these comic ethnic performances verges on insulting, not quite Peter Sellers in dark-face doing his Indian accent in The Party, but undoubtedly rolled in sugar and silliness.
The Mother still complains about wanting to die. Redford has carried her up the stairs. Fonda shrieks and gambols around like a child. There’s not a moment of actual passion. While Simon is often praised for finding hilarity in completely normal situations, the pressures delivered by actors immersed in these Laverne and Shirley sequences seldom come across as normal or every day. They come across as fantastical and require huge leaps of faith to accept as anything like pedestrian human relations. I suppose slinging back some booze could explain a bit of the clowning. I wonder if I’m not chafing a bit because these actors have been with me my whole life and they just don’t seem like kids. I mean, this isn’t cute kid and cute kid make a porno.
Fonda presses a raging, drunken, late night fight and then a divorce. Wooo! Nothing could be more sensible. Get away from crazy people, despite their cuteness. There’s a cooling off after this ridiculous atrociousness, brought about by Mother spending the night with Charles Boyer. And soon, Fonda is feeling some remorse about her treatment of new hubby. Mother’s advice to the daughter is to simply play that the husband is important. She sends Fonda off into the streets of NYC to find her husband, which she does by jogging around and looking until she finds him. Could there be a more twee idea? When she locates him he’s apparently learned all his life lessons from homeless men in the park.
Real problems in relationships can take years to fully develop, so I suppose crashing everything into a baby’s emotionalism in a 100 minutes might be necessary. It’s the complete lack of adult cynicism that surprises me about American entertainment of this era, and possibly the eras previous. Everyone who ever gets married does so with the knowledge that the kindness and sweetness of romantic love are soon evaporated and what’s left is likely a business deal at best and at worst a crisis center. A recent tale of woe comes from friends of friends who told a tale of a young woman who decided she wanted to have babies, put a personal ad up, met a guy and ditched him because he didn’t propose fast enough. The next one did on the first date and she accepted. They made enough money to get the house and build the perfect nursery, when the kiddo arrived hubby was discovered to be distributing child porn on his work computer. I suppose I don’t need that movie, but dealing with the apparent and shocking lack of depth in modern coupling might be worth pursuing. Returning to the idea of shunning cynicism, and the embrace of fantasy in these sorts of films, I suppose no one was thinking of it as an American answer to Divorce Italian Style, or something equally potent. It’s not just Americans who want to be babies at the movies. If you’ve ever digested a Bollywood feature, or sat through any East Asian action adventure with their entirely sexually unplugged heroes you know that complication is not a favorite feature for target audiences.
This is running free on Prime (USA), and possibly the best part of these old films is looking at the decor. Bullfighting posters and colorful abstract art, looks like Miro. I dig the earthy blues and purples. Lavish.