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Movie of the Day: Interiors (1978)

18 Jan

Interiors

No one ever accused Woody Allen of doing anything halfway, and that couldn’t have been more evident than in his desire to move from making slapstick farce into more serious territory. His transition came in 1977 with Annie Hall, a comic love story that wasn’t slapstick but far more sophisticated and got him more respect than he had ever gotten as a director. Yet, with his follow-up, he threw away his comic arsenal and jumped head-first into a dead serious drama that contained no laughs at all.

Interiors is a sober, gut-wrenching family drama that could have come from the pen of Eugene O’Neill. Within the walls of a perfectly sanitized mansion, we witness the deterioration of wealthy New York family that is begins to unravel when Arthur (E.G. Marshall), the family patriarch announces that he wants a divorce. This is devastating to his three daughters, Flyn (Kristin Griffith), Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) but most of all to their mother Eve (Geraldine Page) who wanders in a state of lingering depression as she tries to keep her house looking beautiful while her family falls apart.

This is not a fun movie to witness, but you do have to admire Allen’s craft here. We know now that he can do great drama but at the time this movie was a cold water treatment to those use to Sleeper or Love and Death. It shows an artist at the top of his craft, creating a tapestry of human suffering brought out most aptly from a staggeringly sad performance by stage veteran Geraldine Page whose inward turmoil of spending 30 years with a selfish man who decides almost on a whim that he wants to get rid of her. Page’s performance is all in her sad face. She wanders about in a state of almost chronic pain. She’s spent years pinning up her emotions until she arrives at a point when she can hold them in no longer.

As I say, this is not a fun movie to sit through. There is so much misery and pain here that after a while you want a ray of sunshine. And that presents itself in the form of Maurine Stapleton as Pearl Arthur’s new fiancé. She’s open-hearted, and well-meaning but we suspect doesn’t quite understand the divided family unit that she is entering. Arthur, of course, marries Pearl but it has to be the saddest wedding we’ve ever seen – not for what happens at the ceremony, but for what that ceremony represents to the family whose lives are being torn apart by Arthur’s selfishness.

This is a great movie, but not one that I can watch very often. It is art for art sake, sort of Allen’s attempt as a Bergman-type film. He does well but – OH! – this movie is so sad. It’s so achingly sad from beginning to end that in recent years I have only seen it twice. It’s too much pain, too much sadness, too much drama. It’s a great movie, just not a lot of fun.

 

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