Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE

The not so happy couple arrive at a party
















DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (1970). Director: Frank Perry.

"Do you realize our party is only nine days away?" -- Jonathan

"Can't you do something about that godawful hair of yours?" -- ditto.

"I came here to get help with my very real and troubling problems. She has a husband, a lover, and an eight-room apartment on the park. Why does she need help?" -- woman at encounter group.

Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress) is an unassertive Upper East Side housewife whose self-absorbed husband Jonathan (Richard Benjamin) treats her more like a child or servant than a beloved spouse. He is fixated more on social climbing than in fulfilling her needs. But Tina goes from the frying pan into the fire when she begins a supposedly for-sex-only affair with author George Prager (Frank Langella), who is condescending, epicene, and sexually ambiguous to boot. Tina's other problems include a horribly chauvinistic psychiatrist and her two little girls, one of whom, Sylvie (Lorraine Cullen), is rude and obnoxious beyond words. Snodgress gives an imperfect but mostly effective performance (albeit Oscar-nominated); Langella, who is quite good, seems to be channeling his inner Bette Davis at times; and Benjamin nearly walks off with the movie with his excellent, three-dimensional portrait of the not entirely unlikable Jonathan. Tina starts off as a drip but becomes more empowered as the movie progresses. As George, Langella radiates such a negative aura that it's a wonder Tina is attracted to him, but he is a famous writer and more sophisticated than her husband. Based on a novel by Sue Kaufman [with a screenplay by the director's then-wife, Eleanor Perry], Diary of a Mad Housewife is one of the few topical late sixties/early seventies films that still holds up today. It was also one of the first "modern-day" movies to present the problems of the comparatively wealthy, and there were many movies to follow about the sufferings of neglected upper east side and Hampton wives. The final scene set at an encounter group that Tina attends is hilarious. A party scene at the Balsers is also very funny. Well-directed by Perry.

Verdict: Very amusing and very entertaining. ***1/2.

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