In my experience, most failed romantic encounters leave you with a degree of sadness, a couple stolen oversized sweatshirts, and often a new appreciation for some previously unheard of bands/artists. I emerged last year relatively unscathed by a summer romance that left me with (in addition to the aforementioned things) a newfound love of the films of writer/director John Cassavetes. Among these brilliant films, the shining star for me has been A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974). Maybe it’s because of my undying love for Gene Rowlands. Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with the idea that John Cassavetes so masterfully directed Gene, his wife, which I can’t imagine made for a traditional set atmosphere. Maybe it’s because in this day and age I’m so jaded by the abundance of predictable blockbusters and romcoms that I’m constantly thirsting for something of substance.
I’ve never been great at looking at a movie in its entirety and assigning credit to the director for its perfection. By that I mean, I wasn’t someone who looked at THE DEPARTED and thought, “Martin Scorsese obviously deserves an Oscar for this.” I would be a horrible member of the Academy. That said, I can’t help but see Cassavetes’ genius all over this masterpiece, especially as he wrote and directed the film. The relationship he designs between Peter Falk and Gene Rowlands is one of the most convincing and complex loves I’ve ever seen on screen.
Gene plays Mabel, a confused, eccentric, and quite possibly bipolar/schizophrenic (I’ll have to run this diagnosis by my psychologist roommate) housewife whose life revolves around her children and her husband Nick (Peter Falk). When Nick works late and misses a date night, Mabel’s psychosis emerges in a way Nick seems to have never dealt with before. It’s not a dangerous kind of crazy so much as an absolute inability to function normally in social situations, which leads her into many palpably uncomfortable scenes with her neighbors, family, friends, and even children. So uncomfortable that you spend the majority of the movie clenching your stomach muscles- the scene where she supervises her children’s playdate- yikes.
The film doesn’t follow much of a traditional plot, but rather it delves deeply into the relationship between two damaged, fragile humans. Cassavetes’ attention to detail is so astute and so impeccable. To put it simply- the film is truly a piece of art. Check it out, it’s on instant watch on Netflix!