A Woman Under the Influence Reviews
I didn't believe we are meant to wonder who is "crazier," Mabel (played by the truly brilliant Gena Rowlands) or her husband (a terrific Peter Falk). Cassavetes makes a strong, bold (and rarely voiced) point...it is the trappings of contemporary life that makes us on the verge of insanity. Mabel loves her children, loves to dance and sing -- and for that she is committed. Her "unidentified mental illness" seems to intensify when her husband mistreats and was physically and verbally abuses her (in my opinion, going a bit crazy after someone slaps you is probably healthier and saner than being polite, demure, and rational).
Mabel loves life, shows her love without apology, and is severely punished for it. Everyone else in the movie struggles to calm everyone down and avoid showing too much emotion. While this may be more socially acceptable it isn't sane or even healthy. Humans are emotional beings, and this hallow societal expectation of
Cassavetes tips his hand and proves his point when Mabel comes home from the institution. She hasn't seen her children, husband, and family for 6 months and people assault her, some she has never even met, before she even leaves the car. When she does get inside the safety of her own home the people who put her away and told to forget the past greet her with small talk and politeness. Then when she finally sees her children after being told to "wait a minute" she says to herself that she wants to remain calm and show "no emotions." It seems obvious that this is a perfectly acceptable time to be emotional but fresh from the institution she know being normal doesn't allow you to be emotional. Emotions are scary, messy, and inconvenient and I for one am thrilled that John Cassavetes shed such a great light on these ideas. It's a bold, original film in every sense of the word, and it does what all good cinema does: it makes you think about your relationship to the world.
Some might take umbrage with the length, and at two and a half hours, it is a formidably depressing slog. I thought it was worth every second, though. How did John Cassavetes have such an utterly untalented son?
Rowlands deserved her Oscar nomination (she lost to Ellen Burstyn in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"), but her character's inappropriate, manic, eager-to-please behavior hits its note very early and doesn't develop much further. The script reveals little about her background and doesn't give much sense of whether she was born this way or has a post-traumatic condition. A 146-minute film ought to dig deeper. Why didn't we see any of her treatment at the psychiatric hospital?
Cassavetes really took his film to another level. I really admired the akward party where Nick gives a speech and tells everyone they have to leave before his wife gets home from being released from a mental institution. There's another great scene where Mabel (Rowlands) makes spaghetti and tries to make friendly aquaintances with Nick's co-workers only she's viewed as akward and flawed, another akward scene is whene Nick and his friend steal the kids from school to spend a day on the beach. While going home, Nick offers his kids a sip of beer. Afer seeing that scene I cringed.
It's films like these audiences will always remember and Cassavetes hits each scene perfectly on every note and it's never outdated. I'm sure this project must have been very personally for him since every scene, to me rings strong in my mind. Love may be complicated but it sure makes the small things in life unbreakable.
Peter Falk, which I have first seen playing himself in "Wings of Desire", delivered an unforgettable, emotionally powerful and quite underrated performance as the husband Nick. The character is a blue-collar worker striving to keep his family together, and by the sight of his sublimely pleading eyes, he means good for everyone. He immensely loves Mabel (Gena Rowlands), his wife, and his children even more so. But he is quite weary of Mabel and her slow drift into a self-losing basket case.
His weariness is quite valid, after all, and with the help of the shaky camera utilized by Cassevetes that sometimes even goes out of focus, he has established Mabel's initial sequence as she, panting, exaggerated, and worried, assists her children as they go with their grandmother into her car to go to her house. "I shouldn't have let 'em go", uttered by Mabel. This sequence, although it shows her unusual redundancy, does not really highlight her insanity but shows her neurotic tendencies. As we see her repeat instructions, mostly about her children's well-being and safety, and fast talk her way to her mother's attention, Gena Rowlands depicts Mabel's personality with a slight slant of ambiguity: Does she really mean every word?
"A Woman Under the Influence" is infused with such incredible sequences after another, mostly dominated by Ms. Rowlands' weird, pathetically disorienting glib of tongue. She wants to entertain Nick's friends. She immerses into childhood persona just to make children laugh. But ultimately, she is marked by sadness. Yes, she is mentally unstable, but did she ever wanted to be in such a condition?
Then, in a tolling decision lifted by frustration and exhaustion on Nick's part, he sent her to a mental institution. He then tries to care for his children himself. But as shown by the significant sequence in the beach, shot within a considerable distance and with a point of view not leveled to an adequate position, the film showed Nick's incompetence as an affecting parent. Of course, he loves his children more than anything else, but with things that needs tenderness and detailed caring, he is gravely lacking.
Through this sequence, not only was it suggested that Nick really misses his wife with her free-willing interaction with their kids, John Cassavetes, with his great characterization of Mabel, also made us audience miss her. Despite the deterioration of her mental health, as she left their house and was committed to an institution, she also left a hole in her family. For once we see, after her erratic mental episodes, her encompassing influence to Nick and their children. Her utility. Her vitality.
After watching "A Woman Under the Influence", I thought that the film is really much more about the essential presence of a mother in a family rather than it is about the complexity of madness. Yes, beneath its sheer depiction of deafening attempts to control an insanity-inflicted individual and its uneasy portrayal of mental instability, it's centered in the significance of a caring matriarch. Mabel may be raving mad, she may shout senseless phrases and dance in the tune of the"Swan Lake" atop a couch, but her importance echoes throughout the four corners of their house all the same.
And as suggestively shown in the final scene approached with a sense of suburban calm, Nick and Mabel will always stride to strive. And as they make their bed and close the curtains, they, after all that have transpired, are still in one piece. That is until something else do them part.
I loved how much of a see-saw her character and Peter Falk's relationship was. In fact, the first hour and a half is perfect. The last hour loses steam, and the ending doesn't seem as strong, but I'm glad I bought this one. It's a great, and truly destined to become a favorite.