A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972)
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Part black comedy and part straight drama, "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" is hard to classify. Perhaps "movies adapted from plays" is the most appropriate genre, because its staging has some of that typical drawing-room stiffness. Teacher/artist Bri (Alan Bates) and actress Sheila (Janet Suzman) are a sophisticated couple whose lives are saddled with a tragic burden: their disabled daughter Jo (Elizabeth Robillard, in her only film role). Alternately called a "spastic," a "vegetable" and other terms that may not be acceptable today, Jo looks about nine years old. She moans rather than speaks, has unfocused eyes and is not capable of voluntary movement. She only twitches with seizures. Bri and Sheila choose to deal with this awful situation through cynical wit ("God is a manic-depressive rugby footballer") and tart humor. The bulk of the script rests on their edgy interplay, and the full cast has only nine speaking parts. A babbling mother-in-law (Joan Hickson) is traditional comic relief, while family friends Freddie (Peter Bowles) and Pam (Sheila Gish) mirror our own discomfort. The other characters are fairly trivial. A scene on a tacky children's ride does add an amusing tour-guide part and a strangely uneventful Jean Marsh cameo. Bates is dazzling as usual, though his broad theatrics can be abrasive at times. Shakespearean actress Suzman is a fine foil, and also is game for some rather unnecessary nudity. The story's most powerful feature is its bold discussion of the euthanasia temptations that such parents shouldn't feel but inevitably do. The talk-based action drags a little, but a strong ending defies a scenario that seems wholly unresolvable. Director Peter Medak had quite a year between this film and the equally dangerous satire of "The Ruling Class."
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