Film: Very Good
Label: Twilight Time
Released: February 14, 2017
Genre: Drama / Comedy / Romance
Synopsis: A year after Laura returned to her husband, Charles reaffirms his determination to reunite with the love of his life.
Special Features: Audio Commentary with director Joan Micklin Silver and co-producer Amy Robinson / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.
After Ann Beattie’s first novel was published, the producing team of Amy Robinson, actor Griffin Dunne, and actor Mark Metcalf optioned the film rights using money Metcalf earned from Animal House (1978). Around the same time, director Joan Micklin Silver was interested in adapting the novel for the big screen, and the quartet pooled their creative resources and crafted a film that was faithful to the novel but rebranded by studio United Artists as Head Over Heels, and released in 1979.
As Robinson and Silver recall in the Blu-ray commentary track, UA didn’t like the finished film nor were able to grasp its unique blend of drama and selective doses of pale dry comedy, hence the film failing to find an audience, plus UA’s own intense focus on saving itself as Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) was dragging the studio towards insolvency.
When the company re-emerged as MGM/UA, the in-house classics division approached the filmmakers with a truly rarefied offer: ‘How’d ya like to see the film re-released with any changes you feel would improve its second chance with theatrical audiences?’
The film regained its original title (taken from Beattie’s book), and the final ‘happy ending’ scene was dropped, a move that brought positive reviews and box office in 1982 for what arguably became a sleeper hit and cult film, followed by a home video release on tape, where its grainy, full screen presentation didn’t exactly flatter the film’s gorgeous Salt Lake City locations in the prime of winter.
The passing 35 years since its rebirth have been largely kind to this odd take on the unlikely relationship between temp worker Maura (Parents and Interiors’ Mary Beth Hurt) and government analyst Charles (Cat People and The Package’s John Heard) that sparks to life during Laura’s sudden separation from a bland good guy named Ox (Metcalf).
The dialogue is sharp and dry, and Silver combines many narrative ideas – on-camera addresses, short fantasy chats between the ex-lovers, internal thoughts, temporal cross-cutting – that evoke the suddenness of their romance, the long stretches of uncertainty before commitment, and the jagged upsets which ultimately caused the pair to drift apart and have Laura return to her husband. The film’s setting and main plot, however, involve Charles deciding he’s going to get Laura back after one year of silence since their break-up.
Silver’s playful use of switching around time results in some great contrasts between fantasy, reality, and private moments where Charles is often exceptionally goofy and smart-assed. The repartee between best friend / freeloader Sam (Peter Riegert) is often at Charles’ expense, while sister Susan (Tara Nutter) offers a rare exchange between a post-Woodstock generation mocking her idyllic predecessors (even though they never went, ‘but could have’).
Beattie and Silver also characterize Charles’ irreverent coping mechanisms as weird obsessions – an object he crafts from scratch is called out by Sam, and is later used to show Charles’ slightly creepy side (“Good night, Ox”) – and although he is the dominant character, both the performances and the direction manage to put Charles and Laura on a level playing field even though the latter does disappear for small chunks.
The cast is exceptionally strong, with Gloria Graham (The Greatest Show on Earth, The Big Heat) playing Charles and Susan’s mentally unstable mom, Kenneth McMillan as the pro-Turtle Wax stepdad, Nora Heflin as Charles’ slightly daffy assistant, Jerry Hardin as his boss, and perpetual scene-stealer Frances Bay as a cigarette-smoking loon. Ann Beattie has a cameo playing a waitress, and co-producer Dunne plays Susan’s effete hipster boyfriend.
Chilly does have its share of politically incorrect elements – Charles’s utterance after Laura wants out is pretty ugly – but it’s also a unique snapshot of an era, especially a work environment in which glass-enclosed offices where largely privy to boys, and the women were assembled into a central typing pool area. One can argue that while the main focus is Charles, it’s also about Laura’s emancipation after settling for a safe, prepackaged family; choosing to build her life around Charles; and finally breaking free from both men to regain her independence and a career of her own.
Smoothening the scene cuts and time jumps is Ken Lauber’s score which is part pop-jazz and contemporary instrumental. Most of the music plays during the early scenes, and more melodic material eases into the film near the finale, when Charles also runs from his bad habits and past, energized to move forward after a once-and-for-all clean break.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a very nice transfer that brings out the beautiful location cinematography by Bobby Byrne (California Dreaming, Sixteen Candles, Bull Durham), and Launer’s previously unreleased score is showcased in an isolated stereo track. (The film’s original mono mix, though, is exceptionally bouncy.)
Robinson and Silver’s commentary offers some importance background on the film’s genesis, location filming, and later on its second life under its proper name, but there are long gaps between sometimes increasingly brief exchanges, and it’s a track that would’ve been better served with tighter editing and indexed jumps to skip dead spots.
Fans curious to see the original theatrical cut are out of luck; most likely the filmmakers wanted just the Chilly edit on disc, since its’ both the preferred version of Robinson, Silver, and author Beattie who also felt the happy ending ran against the film’s carefully structured tone. The inference from prior reviews and factoids infers other edits were peformed, but the filmmakers state only the end was dropped – something that admittedly could’ve been included as a bonus – but its inclusion was likely (and rightly) at their discretion.
Silver’s other films include Crossing Delancey (1988) and numerous TV movies, and Robinson and Dunne’s producing partnership includes Baby It’s You (1983), After Hours (1983), and Game 6 (2006).
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review