A Woman Under the Influence (1974) (R)

What is astonishing about "A Woman Under the Influence" is Gena Rowlands who embodies the main character's antics so desperately that we start to see a shred of dark and glorious genius beneath her. She is guided in her steps by John Cassavetes who brings us here one of the craziest movies you could ever ask for.
In the movies I've seen by him, Cassavetes likes to hold the viewer out a little bit...here he does it again. He doesn't go in for sentimentality, but that doesn't stop us for caring for his characters.
"AWoman Under the Influence" is high on characters and low on plot...something that I heard Paul Thomas Anderson say once and it stuck with me. I've said it a lot—what do I mean by that?
I'll explain: Mabel Longhetti (Rowlands) after getting rid of the children so she and her husband could have a date night, is left cold at the last minute because an emergency at her husband's work takes precedence over her. She drinks and goes stumbling through the night to a bar where she picks up a guy and brings him home. The first bar she goes into has only a few men lounging around and some lame music. Mabel walks in the door, the camera sees the room, and then she leaves.
This is why it's high on characters. Why did she leave the first bar? Was she offended? Was she uninterested? Was is just not her style? The movie never spells out the "whys" which is the reason it is so effective and so frustrating at the same time.
The day after Mabel wakes up and the guy she brought home is walking around. We start to get a glimpse into the life of this woman...she's just crazy. As insane people go, Mabel is functioning; but still a lunatic. She can not read situations and is plagued with the most horrid social ineptitude. Yet for all her insanity and quirky behavior, this is all it seems like is ill with her—she's extremely socially awkward. She thinks that people should behave as she does and though her psychotic moments flare up in certain situations, she is certainly never without them.
Her husband, Nick (Peter Falk in a somewhat villainous role) should belong in a Scorsese movie. He's the typical husband we see in such dramas—loving, but temper ridden and not afraid to use his fists as necessary.
As the movie progresses, Mabel's condition gets worse and it isn't helped by Nick's actions. Gena Rowlands, given a very showy role, doesn't overstep her boundaries. She flies around the room, her mouth always open as if she's ready to speak but no one wishes to hear. Her eyes are wide and full of fear, happiness, and sorrow often at the same time. While at moments the film feels peeled off of the hyperbolic broadway stage, Rowlands stands above the rest as the shining light of the picture.
Peter Falk is good here to as a troubled and naive father, who thinks he is doing the best for his children.
Not much happens in the movie, so for its length it feels over complicated. There are scenes that are unnecessary though the true Cassavetes fan would disagree.
All-in-all, it doesn't do much good. What was the point? Cassavetes blends insanity with sane behavior and it makes us ask who is the crazy person—the husband, the wife, or even the viewer?
Certainly containing sexual politics, "A Woman Under the Influence" is as elusive as a movie can be. Just when you think you get it nailed down, it moves from under you...which, while genius in its own way, is quite an unsettling experience.

Score: ★★★

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