A Woman Under the Influence - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

A Woman Under the Influence Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ July 23, 2012
One cannot be a fan of independent cinema without acknowledging the contributions of John Cassavetes. A Woman Under the Influence, arguably his best film, sees the humanistic auteur at the top of his game (observant camera work, extending shots to pick up his characters' idiosyncrasies, mixing and matching shot scales and eye lines, etc.). I love his style of filmmaking, but if there's one criticism, it's that he can times be so observational that it allows room for viewers to misunderstand the point. This film is a perfect example of that.

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.
Super Reviewer
October 18, 2011
Two of the best performances I've ever seen. Gena Rowlands makes you fall in love with her and feel sorry for her. Peter Falk is great as the rough man who tries to cope with his wife losing her mind. The scene with Falk sitting in the back of a pick up truck sharing a beer with his kids is priceless.
Super Reviewer
½ November 4, 2007
a devastating film containing one of the bravest performances ever seen, for which gena rowlands is justly celebrated, overshadowing the fine work of her costar. peter falk is completely natural as the frustrated blue collar husband trying to deal with his emotionally fragile and increasingly eccentric wife. the film goes places no one else dared, exhibiting the rawest possible emotions and investigating every corner of the family's life. peter falk may be best remembered as the rumpled detective columbo but he did some wonderful work for cassavettes among others.
Super Reviewer
January 15, 2011
I feel like I am doing disservice to the picture if I try to summarize John Cassavetes' "A Woman Under the Influence" into a blurb review. It's not that simple. There is so much going on here, so much detail, that simply picking out a couple things seems offensive to all the rest them. This is an incredible film that needs to be experienced by any true fan of the filmed artistic medium. One of Cassavetes' best films and a true testament to independent cinema and Cassavetes' collaboration with Gena Rowlands. Harrowing, funny, real, emotional and timeless, "A Woman Under the Influence" is a one of a kind experience.
Super Reviewer
½ May 16, 2009
Finals are over! I can actually watch movies again! This was a great induction back into the world of listless cinephilia, simply because I don't think I've ever seen a movie quite like it. Gena Rowlands gives an impeccable performance, painting this woman with incredible depth. She doesn't run straight to crazy-person quirk, but instead illuminates the pain she's feeling from the world around her, giving us a solid reason why she would retreat into madness. The movie does an incredible job of reminding us how harsh and oppressive society can be, especially toward people who think or function differently.

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?
Super Reviewer
July 6, 2007
Gena Rowlands gives one of the greatest performances of all time. This is my favorite Cassavettes' film.
Super Reviewer
November 10, 2006
Very dry but also very good.
Super Reviewer
½ June 8, 2012
"A Woman Under the Influence" boasts a superb lead performance from Gena Rowlands, but there's something about writer-director John Cassavetes' male characterizations that really grates on me. He's not interested in thinking men. Instead, he adores these old-school macho types who mask everything with bravado and believe the ultimate life moment is to crowd around a table with other loud, manly men while backslapping each other, smoking and drinking. Such scenes are like watching a Lions Club meeting.

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?
Super Reviewer
June 21, 2013
A Cassavetes film is something to truly behold and particularly a Cassavetes film involving his life partner Gena Rowlands. The meltdown of a family unit has become commonplace in many modern films but it was unique for the time and Cassavetes was truly a ground breaker.
Super Reviewer
March 2, 2013
A Woman Under the Influence is a film I've been meaning to catch for a good while now. It's about a broken home, or perhaps the end was implying that this was a normal home, either way it's about a home. In this home there's a wife, a husband, and three kids. It couldn't be more normal, except the wife is coo-koo, and the husband is an abusive prick. Both had amazing performances, but especially Gena Rowlands. If you've seen the 2010 film Blue Valentine the style is incredibly similar. I think the main draw back of the film is that it tried to be too genuine. I was shocked by the realistic feel, but I was noticing so much that I never viewed this as a real family. It never left just a movie zone for me, which I think is contrary of the intent. I felt that the film could have been trimmed down some, but the length wasn't to big of a deal. The problem was the over kill of realism, and trying to show a regular family with there baggage, been better if Cassavates toned down trying to make it 100% life like.
Super Reviewer
October 11, 2012
One of the finest independent films out there, "A Woman Under the Influence" is a thought-provoking, ably directed and forcefully acted family drama that works just as well today as it did when it was first released, even if the subject matter isn't nearly as shocking. Both Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk have brave, completely moving performances that rank with some of the cinema's best and most realistic ones, and the scenes they share feel incredibly honest. "A Woman Under the Influence" still resonates with today's audiences, but its story doesn't justify its cumbersome length, which can be ponderous at times. Nevertheless, John Cassavetes' powerful tale of mental illness and domestic abuse is an accomplished work and a true stepping stone for independent cinema.
Critique Threatt
Super Reviewer
January 8, 2012
This is one of John Cassavetes best films. Gena Rowlands gives a stunning performance as the housewife Mabel who isn't all who she's cracked up to be. Her husband Nick (Peter Faulk) is the agressive husband who admires her wife but wants her to stop acting so starnge and unusual around his friends. "AWUTI" is a painful film to watch because, well haven't we all tried to please our significant other in a relationship?

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.
Super Reviewer
August 20, 2011
One of the greatest films I've ever seen.
Super Reviewer
½ May 16, 2011
Great films like "Sunset Blvd." and "Psycho". They have both shown 'madness' in a way both disturbing and doomed, uncontrollably fatal and in brutal askew. Both pictures solidified the fact, with utter exclamatory conviction, that being in such a mental state is synonymous with being 'done for' and you can't really do anything but inhabit its very delirious core. And although the latter statement was still further raised by "A Woman Under the Influence", this film, directed with raw attention to the essence of the story and characters rather than the overall aesthetics by John Cassavetes, is a revolutionary break-out party (a bit hyperbolic, I must admit) to the hidden side of this seemingly over-used cinematic theme of psychosis: That madness can also serve as a familial balance.

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.
Super Reviewer
January 6, 2010
I really do respect John Cassavetes, the way he basically invented the American independent film scene as we know it today is admirable. However, the three Cassavetes movies I?ve seen really haven?t done a lot for me. This one is probably the best of them as it has a pair of really strong performances, but the story itself didn?t really grab me, and at two and a half hours the whole thing just seemed too long. Really, I did respect the movie, I just didn?t much like it.
Super Reviewer
½ July 5, 2008
Gena Rowlands is the benchmark. From now on, I'm probably going to watch actresses with her in mind. She's that good in this great film.
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.
Super Reviewer
August 28, 2008
Powerful direction,the emotional breakdown this woman suffers is visible but not a compelling fact so that we may sympathize her.She and he.The two mutual characteristics in which Cassavetes usually brings forth in his philosophy.Now I understand Godfather II is legendary but why this movie was was left with zero Oscars?
Super Reviewer
½ July 10, 2008
With every film I watch of his I love Cassavetes more, and this is defiantly the best of his I've seen so far. Gena Rowlands performance is amazing as the housewife and mother struggling with mental illness. But throughout the film it becomes clear that she is not the only one suffering from an illness. Nick, her husband also seems to be suffering, always get angry and occasionally violent. The couple are under the influence of each other, driving one another mad, yet when all is said and done all they can do is get on with life (the last scene especially).
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