|Gena Rowlands as Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) d. John Cassavetes|
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
d. John Cassavetes
Criterion Collection #253
Part of John Cassavetes: Five Films
Criterion Collection #250
Of course after I write that long involved post about how unpopular Cassavetes is I watch A Woman Under the Influence and learn it was nominated for two Oscars....so.... he's not THAT unpopular. It's more like A Woman Under the Influence was his break out and then The Killing of Chinese Bookie was a mis-understood at the time "hidden" masterpiece. A Woman Under the Influence is about a working-class couple: The Longhetti's. The dad is Nick, acted by Peter Falk (who also helped finance the film) and the Mom is Mabel, played by Gena Rowlands. Mabel is a little off kilter from the start, she sings to herself and says strange things to her three young children. It's clear within the first fifteen minutes that Nick, who works for the City repairing underground water pipes, is concerned, but also that he loves her and that she's always been a little off.
After a bizarre incident involving their children, some of their children's classmates and the father of said children's classmates that features unexplained nudity, Mabel is institutionalized. Nick struggles to cope with single parenting, revealing that perhaps Mabel isn't the only person with issues relating to boundaries and controlling emotions. In the most memorable scene from this part of the film, Nick takes his kids to the beach in the back of a delivery truck and gives them all beer on the ride home (all children 10 or younger.)
Often described as an "uncompromising depiction of a mental breakdown" what I saw was a woman who has always been a little "off" but who is essentially victimized as the result of something beyond her control (naked kids running around under her watch.) Yes, her behavior is bizarre but she really isn't THAT crazy until people start accusing her of being crazy, at which point she does, indeed, act like a crazy person. Upon her return from the psych ward after a six month commitment, it becomes clear almost instantly that the time away hasn't done her a lick of good, and that she is exactly where she was prior to being sent off.
Her and her husband fight in a violent scene which takes place in front of her children, but then make up and the curtain drops. A Woman Under the Influence is a beloved classic to be sure and a must watch for anyone who claims to be interested in the history of American independent film.