A Woman Under the Influence (1974) Other movies recommended for you
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Plot: Peter Falk is a blue collar man trying to deal with his wife's mental instability. He fights to keep a semblance of normality in the face of her bizarre behavior, but when her actions affect their children, he has her committed. Runtime: 155 mins Release Date: 17 Nov 1974
A man goes into a big, strange house with his family and friends. He is armed with script and camera, and proceeds to create a milestone work of American cinema the key film of the 1970s. Above all else, `A Woman Under the Influence' is Anti-Hollywood, Anti-Establishment, Anti-Film. 1970's Hollywood may have defined itself with films like Godfather, Rocky, Annie Hall, and Deer Hunter but real, unpredictable, chaotic life was Cassavettes' territory. Fact is, Hollywood will never be ready for uninhibited Mabel and her much crazier husband Nick. Nutty as she is, <more>
Mabel/Cassavettes does nothing but tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. Hollywood at best, tells persuasive lies. So , to get Hollywood ready for the Gospel of Cassavettes, the first thing that must happen is to banish the entire FX community; ship em to Alcatraz where they can make blockbuster cartoons for each other. Second the writers, directors and producers of said cartoons can go Vegas and try to `leave.' Those who remain will be entrusted with putting complex human beings who inhabit interesting lives and situations on the screen not `role models' who traipse through neatly-plotted, highly-improbable, beautifully photographed, committee-designed plots. Get my point? By the way, Gena Rowlands in "Influence" gives one of the finest performances of the sound era. See this film. See it now. Right now.
Cassavetes's absorbing look at the nature of marriage; Falk and Rowlands are spellbinding (by Quinoa1984)
While John Cassavetes is rightly revered for this film and other under his belt, wife/key-star Gena Rowlands is the most fascinating and emotionally gripping part to this work, Woman Under the Influence. Her role as Mabel was perfect in a film that sometimes was not even as it just tried for suburban truth. I was constantly curious about where her character was headed, and even more so by how I did not feel any desire at all to pass judgment on her. The moment I would have thought to myself "well, she's too nuts to like" the film would be ruined for me. And that is one of the <more>
more intelligent points to the film that Cassavetes gets at. This is, after all, a character-based film, with story merely in the background. And with his two main characters we get a look at what has been a stereotype for centuries- men are often brutal and stupid, women are crazy. In this filmmakers world, it's just not that black and white, however, but with the grays as pronounced as the highs and lows in a melodrama; it's just the way he sees things, and it's a unique way as well, where the soul and choice are the precedents over comfy dramatic circumstance.I loved the use of the camera in many scenes, how it felt like they just shot and shot and went from one spot in the house to the next, uncertain but knowing how to observe and look. In fact, the whole film has the feel of a documentary, with the occasional dramatic touch such as a close-up. But what turns it into being something special is that Cassavetes understands that Falk, Rowlands and the others can take his script and make it their own, very personally so. And as it happens, Falk finds some of his most daring work here as Nick, a character who in his own way has become as nuts as Mabel with the everyday grind of living which for both of them is filled with people, talk, pure humanity . For those who don't like the easy solutions in dramas, or want to know the basics of the post-modern independent film movement, this is for you. It might seem to drag in spots, but it seems to be even more enveloping if one gives it the time to contemplate over those 'drag' moments.
This is probably one of the most intense films ever made, but to label it "intense" is to almost do it injustice. After all, almost all of the greatest works of art are intense, aren't they?Although it is quite possible to find certain themes that run through this work, the movie almost seems to resist themes. Within its two-and-a-half hour running time, John Cassavetes touches on some of the most indescribable emotional states that human beings ever experience.Technically, the film is equally excellent, with a nice minimalist score by Bill Harwood, softly beautiful <more>
cinematography, and fascinating editing. But all of this is merely in service of the brilliant performances by Rowlands, Falk, and the rest of the cast.
This is just another confirmation that Cassavetes, along with Dreyer and Tarkovsky, is one of the very small number of geniuses in film, whose every film is an extension of their genius -- some more mature than others, but impossible to be "bad"; they are beyond terms like "good" or "bad" -- they are the great art works of the century.This film isn't about a "crazy" lady; it's not about putting a woman in an institution; and it's not about people talking about your crazy wife, though all of this happens in the film. Those are merely the <more>
events that take place over the course of the film; what it's really about is our misunderstanding, our experience as an audience. Just like the characters, we misunderstand Mable's childlike actions. What Cassavetes does is turn *us* into children -- it's as if we're experiencing things for the first time all over again, because it's a totally new experience, the same with watching a movie like "Andrei Rublev." That is an amazing thing to pass onto an audience. That's why I've never been bored watching a Cassavetes film -- something is always happening, things are always changing. The reality of what we're seeing is always undergoing augmentation, so we can never get fully situated.It's never unrelenting gloom the way many so-called realistic films are and this film goes far beyond mere "realism" ; it's devastating watching it, watching Mable ask people if they want spaghetti one by one. But it's loving when Nick jokes about someone hugging her too long. It's communal during a scene at a dinnertable where Mable takes a pride in feeding "her boys." But each scene goes through a transformation as it happens. When Mable goes home with another man, he makes it clear that he's not to be used, but also that she shouldn't punish herself. It's not a screamy moment with a woman hiding in the bathroom; his avuncular twang is disarming.There's a complete lack of self-consciousness in the film, and I mean that in terms of the characters during Mable's key freak out scene, Rowlands does, I think, go too far -- that's why the kids are s terrific in the film. When a boy says, "It's the best I can do, mom," it's an incredible moment because it's managed to be included without being offensive, mugging for the camera with cuteness. The film has such a strange relationship with kids -- they're like little people. And if that sounds odd, you'll understand when you see the film. The characters are constantly changing their minds; they're so aware of themselves that they're unaware -- Mable doesn't realize she's giving off a sexual aura despite the fact that Rowlands can at times look like a blond beach babe . As with Julianne Moore in "Safe," we don't know what's wrong with her. She's a frenetic, guideless woman trying to do the guiding.The way Cassavetes sets up the film, with ominous piano music that comes in when Falk is trying to speak, blinded by frustration; or setting the film inside this house with gigantic rooms, makes everything feel larger and emptier at the same time. It's like the scariness of the echo of something you'd rather not hear. Someone said that they wouldn't want a single frame of "2001" to be cut, lest the experience be changed. I think that applies more aptly to Cassavetes' films, because he never treads over the same thing twice, even when he's doing exactly the same thing he's just done. It's always something new. 9/10
A Woman Under the Influence is an emotionally packed film that is centered around a capricious yet troubled housewife named Mabel. Mother to three young children and wife to her loving but volatile husband Nick, Mabel's mind is consumed with gaining acceptance and being reassured by those who surround her. Her psychological ability to keep up with normal everyday situations eventually reaches full capacity and she struggles to maintain emotional and mental competency.Director Cassavetes intentionally chooses not to grant clemency to the viewer. Imagine walking in late to an opera <more>
that's in it's third act – that almost seems like what Cassavetes does to the audience – introducing his depiction of a distressed family while they're in mid flight. Gena Rowlands' portrayal of the likable but frail Mabel is nothing short of incredible, and Peter Falk gives an equally remarkable performance as Mabel's husband Nick. This film is not for the weak-hearted nor for those seeking traditional entertainment. It's distinctive approach to such an emotional journey will undoubtedly impede many viewer's enjoyment - but for those who appreciate unique cinema and realism, it doesn't get much better than this.
Courageous and Uncompromising Film (by Galina_movie_fan)
This movie is a breakthrough - courageous and uncompromising view at the family and at the marriage where both spouses love each other deeply but they are both not well, they don't know how communicate when somebody else present, even their own children. They could be happy on the deserted island but not surrounded by friends and families. I was fascinated by both, Peter Falk's and Gena Rowlands' performances. She looked like a little girl, trapped in a woman's body - confused, insecure, listening to what is inside of her. When she said to her children, "I hope that you <more>
will never grow up", she meant it because she never felt comfortable as a grown up. I could not take my yes off Rowlands. Her performance is on par with the best study of nervous breakdown I've seen, and this is Liv Ullmann in Bergman's "Face to Face".Peter Falks was also a revelation - I love him as Lt. Columbo in the TV series but he is a completely different character here; in a way, he is as mentally unbalanced as his wife is. The fact that he loves her but never hesitates to abuse her makes him terrifying - you never know how he will act in the next moment, and he does not know himself. Directing and writing are absolutely first class, and I am very exited to see more films by John Cassavetes, the Godfather of American Independent film-making and a father of American "New Wave" 9.5/10
Freewheeling Cassavetes study of a marriage.I think its a misreading to conclude that either one of the main characters is "crazy". Clearly Mabel has what you could call a borderline manic personality, but there's little evidence that she is unable to look after herself or her kids. The fact that she gets committed says less about her condition than about the position of women in the society Cassavetes is depicting. There is no sign that the visiting kids are in any danger - their father freaks out only because Mabel's behaviour falls outside his view of the conventional <more>
housewife. Nick on the other hand is not considered "crazy" despite physically attacking several people and getting his kids drunk, because men are allowed a lot more licence. In the end he is as trapped by the social pressures on him as Mabel is, except his frustration is turned outwards, hers inwards.When the family are alone there is no problem, Nick's difficulties arise when Mabel is unable to fit the social role assigned to her - notably it is his mother who drives him to have Mabel committed. The "influence" Mabel is under turns out not to be alcohol as we first expect but patriarchy expressed via Nick, and society's limited and limiting expectations of women and of people in general. Put Mabel in a San Francisco commune 6 years earlier and she would look normal.A word on the acting. Having known people with rather more serious cases of manic depression I can testify that Gena Rowlands' acting is actually rather understated. Falk meanwhile is a revelation to those who know him only from Colombo - his portrayal of the inarticulate, confused, occasionally violent but still very loving Nick is perfect - he just IS this guy.Incidentally, you can see where Scorsese took many of the ideas for his most personal films from notably "Mean Streets" which apparently he made after Cassavetes criticised "Boxcar Bertha" although he tidied them up and made them commercial. He even copied Cassevetes' lead here by putting his own mother in "Goodfellas".
A Bruising Portrait of Mental Illness (by evanston_dad)
Eeesh, what a tough movie to sit through.This two and a half hour movie left me sweaty, exhausted and hollowed out. In its own way it's an extremely well done film, but I don't know that it's an experience I want to repeat. Director John Cassavetes follows a few months in the life of a family whose mother and wife Gena Rowlands is suffering from mental illness, and the movie consists of one long scene after another of her cracking up, or trying not to crack up, and the various family members' reactions to her cracking up. Peter Falk plays the husband and father who thinks <more>
that mental illness is just some silly nonsense his wife should be able to stop if she just tried hard enough. Rowlands has the showier role, but Falk is the revelation here. His depiction of a husband who blusters and shouts to hide his overwhelming sense of helplessness and fear is superb.Cassavetes's camera is relentless. We watch Rowlands suffer again and again in long takes and intimate closeups. There are times when you simply want to look away from the screen to help this poor woman preserve a shred of dignity. The highlight of the film or low point, depending on your point of view comes when Rowlands's character returns home from a stay in an institution, and her family works overtime to convince themselves that everything's fine when the audience can see clearly that everything is not.Bruising is the best word I can think of to describe this film.Grade: A-
A fascinating study of mental illness, "A Woman Under the Influence" rests on two strengths - the spectacular performances by Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands, and Cassavetes's groundbreaking style of direction. Everything about this movie is so real and honest. It feels like a home movie or a documentary looking into the lives of some very real people. Most films feel the need to dramatize and stylize the story. This film paints the picture exactly the way it is. Some people may be bothered by the direction, but, like it or not, you can't deny Cassavetes's talent.