The film follows Mabel, a woman who is bit little mad. She is married to Nick, who is a construction worker of some kind. They have three kids together but little privacy - they sleep on a pull-out bed in the dining room. When Nick and Mabel are alone, they seem really tender, but they often both fighting with each other and other people. Mabel is deemed insane by people in the film - and maybe she is, a little. She talks too fast and too much. She makes others uncomfortable by invading their personal space. She drinks too much, too fast. Later in the film she does seem to suffer from total breakdown, and Nick has her hospitalized. Of course, that's not the end of the film. While Mabel is gone, we see how insane Nick is (forcing the kids to "play" on the beach and then sharing his six-pack of beer with them). Sometimes, as Ebert mentions, two sort of crazy people sort of fit well together.
The film is...hmmm...melodrama feels like the wrong word. Psychodrama? It's very dramatic, with much yelling and madness. The scenes of arguing are not really fun to watch, but it feels real. I know a lot of people think that Cassavetes improvised a lot in his films, since they have such a believable feel to them. I really liked that aspect of the movie, though. Part of it is that the movie doesn't just focus on the big, exciting moments. It also focuses on the little ones, and has longer scenes of small talk and daily life. It was like a little glimpse into the lives of other people, to see even the dull moments, not just the film-worthy ones.
Ebert writes about the ending of the film, saying, "There is no safe resolution at the end of a Cassavetes film. You feel the tumult of life goes on uninterrupted, that each film is a curtain raised on a play already in progress. The characters seek to give love, receive it, express it, comprehend it. They are prevented by various addictions: booze, drugs, sex, self-doubt. Self-help gurus talk about ``playing old tapes.'' Cassavetes writes characters whose old tapes are like prison cells; their dialogue is like a call for help from between the bars" (The Great Movies, 505-506). I love his image of the films being plays already in progress. It really captures how it felt for me to watch this movie.
I really loved this movie, for it's drama and sense of reality. I loved the characters - I had such overwhelming empathy for Mabel, because there are so many times that I really liked her. There were moments where I could even relate to her, such as when she tries to make conversation with her husbands co-workers. She is awkward, but so cheerful and bubbly. I guess I'm still a little shy at heart, and I could relate because sometimes I think that I might be acting that awkward when I talk to people I don't know. I just really loved this film, Cassavetes is a really incredible filmmaker, and his movies are incredibly personal. I think it's worth checking out, it's streaming on Netflix and a really great watch.
Have any of you seen A Woman Under the Influence? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on A Woman Under the Influence