Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk
Director: John Cassavetes
Distributor: Shock (Distinction Series)
Mabel Longhetti is a little unusual. At first she comes across as just another excitable suburban mother of three but her inner monologue soon bubbles over into strange tics and gestures that prompt strangers to give her a wide berth. When her husband Nick stands her up on “an unbreakable date” she hits the local cocktail bar where she picks up a man and takes him back home in return for some hazy favours. When she awakes she is greeted by not only a massive hangover but by Nick and a dozen of his work mates back from their overnight shift. And so the downward spiral begins.
This uncomfortably intimate domestic scenario was written and directed by John Cassavetes who cast his wife, Gena Rowlands, as the brittle Mabel, and his mother Katherine as her accusatory mother-in-law. Rowlands’ own mother, Lady plays her on-screen mother Martha, and Peter Falk is her loving if confused and sometimes overly harsh husband. But what influence is Mabel actually under? Is it simply her own childlike nature or a secret mix of pills and plonk? Perhaps it’s even the people around her who are tipping her over the edge, including her volatile hubby?
Gena Rowlands paints a vivid portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, one that won her a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination. The style of the film is loose and observational with long takes in which little seems to happen. And yet the stark naturalism is often heightened by romantic operatic interludes which elevate those scenes to lofty heights. In a way, Mabel’s story echoes that of Lucy Jordan; her joy in life comes from her family but when they’re away at school and at work, the emptiness is just too much to bear.