An Unmarried Woman Reviews
When I first saw this movie I was awed by the power of the character's growth. As a marriage ends, the character spirals into despair and meets herself and finally finds joy.
The lead character in "An Unmarried Women", Erica Benton (Jill Clayburgh), is given the bad news with a swift punch that is lubricated by crocodile tears. Her husband (Michael Murphy), has been seeing a younger woman for over a year, and decides that he would like to trade his domestic happiness for someone else.
Erica feels like she has been thrown into a pile of glass. Married for 16 years, with a well-adjusted daughter (Lisa Lucas), and a cushy lifestyle, she simply does not understand how her husband could suddenly go under the "terrible men" category.
For months, Erica can hardly control her emotions. She cries all the time, sometimes goes into inexplicable rages, and finds the idea of "dating" to be a scary thing. But in one of the best, most sad/funny scenes of the film, she has a one-night stand with a co-worker, because shit, she can.
She fiddles around for a while, exploring her newfound single life with no regrets - but when she meets Saul (Alan Bates), a British artist, she is hit with a love arrow that she thinks she isn't ready for. But Saul is everything her ex-husband wasn't. Rugged, confident, sensitive, and most importantly, actually interested in her. When he invites her to stay for the summer with him and his children in Vermont, Erica must decide if she is ready to commit again, or if she isn't quite yet done being an independent woman.
Mazursky's direction and writing is so phenomenal that I almost had to stop the film a few times just to absorb everything he presents. He so seamlessly makes the film funny, truly tragic, and full of realizations.
There is a memorable scene in the film where Erica and her close friends (who may as well be the second generation of "The Golden Girls") discuss how there aren't any women in movies these days as brassy and self-aware as Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn - they are left with Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand, who, despite being fantastic actresses, are more normal, less confident in themselves.
Yet, Erica is as interesting to watch as Davis or Hepburn ever were, maybe because she is as equally truthful or because she is so easy to care about. When Davis or Hepburn performed, you always felt like they were playing themselves, never truly putting on a grand performance that we could tell was fake. But Clayburgh is the exact same way - she throws her tears and laughs into the wind, and we can grab ahold of them.
In the beginning of the film, she dances in her underwear to "Swan Lake" in the lonely hours of the morning - Mazursky gives us enough intimate scenes like this to feel connected to Erica, and Clayburgh is so unabashedly unafraid that we want to be a part of her life. Later, when she invites Saul over for dinner to meet her daughter, I was possibly even more worried than her - what if Patti doesn't like him? If Mazursky's writing wasn't as great as it is, surely, I wouldn't be as overly concerned as I was.
"An Unmarried Woman" is not only a social statement, but a masterpiece in combining comedy and drama without any falsities. It's so flawless in tone that we feel as if we're watching life happen, and Erica is a character we want to take journey with. It's a moving, touching film. A must-see.