California Suite Reviews
The problem, of course, with "something for everyone" stories is that most people then dislike at least part of it. All of them. I do not care for the segment with Walter Matthau, but someone over on IMDB says it's the best part. I was intrigued by the segment with Jane Fonda and Alan Alda, despite the fact that I just don't like Jane Fonda all that much, and someone else thought it should be taken out of the picture entirely. What's worse in this movie is that even some of the bits I initially liked are uneven in style and quality. The story with Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor got broader and broader until it was pure slapstick, and not even very good slapstick. I think only one of the stories comes close to holding up through the entire movie, and it's a near thing in places. Doubtless someone else out there hated it, though. So it goes.
Four groups of people are checking into the Beverly Hills Hotel. Hannah Warren (Fonda) is there only for one night. She is meeting her husband, Billy (Alda), in the hopes of convincing their daughter, Jennie (Dana Plato), to go back to New York with her. Diana Barrie (Dame Maggie Smith) is also there for one night with her husband, Sidney Cochran (Sir Michael Caine). She is up for a Best Actress Oscar. Marvin Michaels (Matthau) is in town for his nephew's Bar Mitzvah; said brother, Harry (Herb Edelman), has ordered him a prostitute, Bunny (Denise Galik). But Marvin's wife, Millie (Elaine May), is due in town the next day. And finally, there are visiting doctors from Chicago. Chauncey (Richard Pryor) and Lola (Gloria Gifford) Gump and Willis (Bill Cosby) and Bettina (Sheila Frazier) Panama are taking a long-planned driving trip across the country, though nothing is quite following said plan. Then again, no one's plan is quite working out.
I find Michael Caine's character particularly interesting. How exactly he and his wife met is left up in the air, given that he's an antique dealer. However, it is made plain that she knew long ago that he's bisexual, and that her problem with that is more to do with fidelity than anything else. You see, she'd really like it if he'd show some. I think she would have been just as angry if he were a womanizer. It's hardly an original idea to have an emotionally needy actress, and it certainly isn't doing good things to her marriage. She wants to be loved and admired. Indeed, Dame Maggie became the only person ever to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar nominee by doing such an outstanding job at the brittle, drunken Diana. (Beating Meryl Streep!) And her husband does love her, in his fashion--more than any woman he's ever loved. How much he's loved men doesn't enter into it, and they're happier that way.
To give a bit of a spoiler here, the bit with the Michaels clan would have been a bit funnier if I hadn't been quite so sure that Bunny was actually dead. Yeah, I'm sure Marvin would have said something if he couldn't find a pulse, but still. She doesn't move or make noise. At all. And I'll admit I've never much dealt with anyone who had passed out, but it still felt off. A moan here or there. Something. Even then, I think it would have been the weakest of the four, but it wouldn't have actively made my flesh crawl. Which it did. It's true that the bits with Pryor and Cosby go from amusing bickering to tedious slapstick, but Matthau doesn't even start with amusing bickering. I'm not a big Neil Simon fan, and the Matthau sequence includes pretty much everything I dislike about his work. I can't help agreeing with Millie that what Marvin does is pretty low--and "I don't think it's that bad" only makes it worse.
I was explaining to Graham a while ago why my family never went camping when I was a kid. (Short answer--would you want to go camping alone with three children under ten?) And Graham declared it was because there's nowhere to camp in California. This, of course, is ludicrous; [i]Yosemite[/i] is in California. But you get names like [i]California Suite[/i], even though the movie probably takes place exclusively in Los Angeles County. (I'm not a hundred percent certain where the first bit with the doctors takes place; there are a lot of interchanges like that in Southern California.) However, this is the part of California people think of, even though there are even several big cities hundreds of miles away. (San Francisco, for example, which is some three hundred fifty miles north.) And it's Beverly Hills, too, which is a tiny part of Los Angeles. There's no camping here, and there are Oscar nominees in the hotels. But we all know that's not really what most of the state looks like, right?
Not all film versions of Neil Simon's plays hit their mark. This is one of the ones that is missing his clever humor.
A great cast headlines this movie about a group of people who check into the high class Beverly Hills Hotel on the weekend of the Academy Awards.
The lines are more forced and the situations less interesting. One interesting note: Maggie Smith became the only person to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar loser.
Neil Simon's Oscar nominated script is only flawed by the inclusion of the story of two Doctors and their wives vacationing together, which is never the less played well by Richard Prior and Bill Cosby. The visuall, sometimes over the top, slapstick of this skit does not fit well with the verball comedy of the other stories. It would have made a great movie of it's own, but seems out of place with the other stories.
Despite this flaw, California Suite remains a movie well worth seeing, filled with Neil Simons wit, and excellent performances by Hollywood legends.