On Screen

ASAHINA, ROBERT

On Screen DOMESTIC DIFFICULTIES BY ROBERT ASAHINA one of the few readers who weren't charmed by John Irving's The World According to Garp. In fact, I freely admit to not finishing it; the...

...To those who haven't read the novel or heard about that big moment, the result of the calamity is not clear until a while later when the transsexual Roberta (John Lithgow) remarks in a throwaway line (that could easily go unheard), "At least I chose to have mine removed...
...Where Irving may have succeeded, say, in portraying Garp's adoration of his family as genuinely moving instead of sappy, Hill and Tesich can only come up with lame scenes showing Williams mooning dopily at his sons...
...The last time I saw that kind of pointlessly silly mixed medium was a sequence in Annie Hall that most people have forgotten...
...That is not to say that the film doesn't include generous hommages to the Bergman of Smiles of a Summer Night and to Jean Renoir, the director, as well as to any number of Impressionist painters...
...commercially successful novels fail on screen in more ways than one...
...In one scene, the young Garp (James McCall) draws a picture of his long-dead father and then falls asleep while his portrait becomes an animated cartoon...
...For the lovers' shenanigans to be funny instead of inane, the writer/director would have had to regard the frustrations of romance, not of sex, with gentle irony...
...At least the filmmakers have tried to improve some of the novel's raw material...
...Then there is a hooker with the proverbial heart of gold (Swoosie Kurtz, at first nearly unrecognizable under layers of makeup), not to mention Jenny herself...
...Without it, the film is little more than an assortment of random, unsurprising occurrences in a young man's ritesof passage: His first love, first sexual experience, first child, other births, failure, success, death...
...Close, too, is astonishingly engaging...
...Hill and Tesich also stoop to a corny, old-fashioned flashback: At one point, a melancholy Garp gazes out a window, and as he opens and closes the Venetian blinds, glimpses from his past (earlier moments of the movie) flicker before his and our eyes...
...At time, Gordon Willis' soft-focus, lyrical camera work is chopped into staccato segments that match the rhythm of the dialogue...
...Inadequately compensating for this obscurity is some crude foreshadowing...
...Part of her failing is that the inevitable shortenings in the screenplay have eliminated Helen's motivation...
...after the initial novelty of a six foot-plus man in drag has worn off, it is not hard to accept him/her as readily as most of the people in the movie do...
...To watch these 1980s characters trying to gambol in period costume while mouthing current catchphrases ("Heeey, trust me...
...Adrian seems simply frigid, until it is revealed that she and Maxwell did have an extramarital fling in the past...
...Perhaps others will soon share my disdain: Even Allen's diehard fans, I suspect, will not have much patience with his latest offering, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy...
...His funniest movies are the recent trio of Interiors, Manhattan and Stardust Memories????efforts laughable for, among other things, their clumsy derivative-ness of Bergman and Fellini...
...Undoubtedly for commercial as well as esthetic reasons (that is, to avoid an X rating), a heartbeat before the collision Hill cuts from the sound of a zipper (unseen) being pulled down and Helen's head descending to a shot of one of Garp's young sons in the rapidly approaching car...
...Thus, with numbing pointedness, a younger Helen furtively watches the teenaged Garp enjoy the oral ministrations of his first lover...
...The rawest, of course, is the notorious episode where Garp's wife, Helen (Mary Beth Hurt), accidentally bites off her lover's penis when the car they are sitting in is rammed from behind by the unsuspecting cuckold...
...Her contact with men has been limited to her impregnation by Garp's father, a dying, brain-damaged airman on whose final erection she briefly impaled herself to bear a child without having to bear any further involvement with its father...
...Adrian's repressed sexuality and psychosomatic headaches (!), Dulcy's and Ariel's "liberated" nymphomania, Leopold's and Maxwell's Playboy-like satyriasis, Andrew's neurotically thwarted urges????These are a contemporary comedian's caricatures of topical problems and passions, not of turn-of-the-century yearnings...
...Adrian's cousin, Leopold (Jose Ferrer), an aging philosopher, and his young bride-to-be, Ariel (Mia Farrow...
...Why the novel was praised for its humanity is beyond me, for so many of its characters are inhuman...
...To begin with, the coy, self-referential structure of the novel (a book about the writing of books) is well-nigh impossible to recreate cinemat-ically (unless as a movie about the making of a movie...
...the combination of cloying sentimentality, arch cleverness, hysterical prose, hyped-up melodrama, and gratuitous sex and violence made me quit it about halfway through...
...Such a tale, absurd as it is, is all in the telling...
...Unhappily, it is also more confusing...
...So does Maxwell...
...This weakness is compounded by the fact that Hurt is simply too monochromatic an actress: A careful and intelligent performer, her emotional range is nonetheless narrow, like the range of her squeaky voice, which also undermines the feelings she is trying to express...
...Unfortunately, Hurt is much less successful...
...Andrew lusts for Ariel, with whom he passed up a chance to have an affair several years before...
...Leopold chases after Dulcy, who seems willing to be chased...
...we get no sense that she is as ambiguous about her desires as Garp is about his...
...she goes from adoring wife to adulteress with no explanation, thus coming across as mindlessly cruel to her spouse and children...
...The inability of director and writer to bring literature to life is also obvious in the awkward gimmicks they use, no doubt in desperation...
...However fresh these appeared on the page, they are stale on film...
...Far worse is Williams, who does little beside beam benignly...
...Some of the actors do manage to give the film a little dignity...
...This heavy-hand-edness, a flaw in the book, is magnified in the film because the compression makes the juxtapositions painfully obvious...
...And Garp's dying moments at the end of the film are set up in that inane cartoon sequence...
...is vaguely embarrassing...
...The adapters evidently don't realize how hackneyed that sequence is...
...Most blatant are some of the author's rather loathsome attitudes, partly concealed in the book by what many of his fans regarded as playful prose...
...Though Jenny is iron-fisted and maniacal, the actress' deadpan air of reasonableness makes the character's obsessiveness seem a matter of ideological determination, rather than personal idiosyncrasy...
...Ariel, at first unwilling, eventually gives in to Andrew, after enticing Maxwell...
...alas, he chooses Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, thus tainting by assocation one of my favorite 19t h-cen-tury works...
...Similarly, the shooting of Garp's mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close), a feminist heroine, is signaled by a prior failed assassination attempt...
...In addition to Roberta (formerly Robert, a professional football player), we have the Ellen Jamesians, feminists on the fringe who have cut out their tongues to protest the rape and disfigurement of Ellen James (Amanda Plummer), whose tongue was severed by her attacker to silence her forever...
...So I can't pretend to any authority concerning the line-by-line accuracy of the film adaptation...
...Lithgow is surprisingly muted and believable...
...It wasn't funny or effective then, and it isn't now...
...I can no more accept him as a writer than I can Irving...
...Allen tells it with the grace of Bottom...
...Although Irving has been regarded as sympathetic to feminism, for instance, his double standard is unmistakable: Garp's seduction of an adolescent babysitter is depicted as a winsome peccadillo, whereas Helen's unfaithfulness leaves her lover unmanned, her husband with a broken jaw, her neck in a brace, her younger son dead, and her marriage nearly destroyed...
...The larger problem is that farce calls for a light touch, and whatever Allen's virtues, lightness has not been among them...
...I've never been able to accept Woody Allen as a serious filmmaker...
...Elsewhere????in a long-distance shot of, for example, two lovers walking through a picturesque glen????The overheard urban cadences make a mockery of the surrounding pastoral splendor, without any hint of irony...
...More tasteful, certainly, than in Irving...
...Allen doesn't do the Bard any favors, either...
...and Andrew's friend, Maxwell (Tony Roberts), a New York doctor, and his nurse/would-be lover, Dulcy (Julie Hagerty...
...The stock elements of farce are present in abundance ómistaken identities, furtive assignations, frantic scramblings in and out of bedrooms...
...The film chronicles the romantic couplings and uncouplings of three pairs at a country summer house around the turn of the century: Andrew (Allen), a Wall Street broker and part-time inventor, and his wife, Adrian (Mary Steenburgen...
...His wit is sarcastic, sardonic, self-mocking????never whimsical...
...Irving's imagination is no less suspect for populating the landscape with freaks...
...As its title suggests, Allen is no longer content with aping movie masterpieces...
...now his models include the works of the Master himself (and I don't mean Hitchcock...
...What's missing from all of this is the point of view of the novel????That of a novelist...
...And most of them don't pose thediffi-culties that Garp presented its adapter, Steve Tesich...
...As the title makes explicit, though, Allen cannot see the love for the lust...
...And so on...
...But such faithfulness is not the problem here...
...Actually, to observe that he makes an ass of himself is to understate his ineptitude...
...Or as a maker of serious films...
...For one thing, his characteristic verbal humor goes against the grain, as it were, of the photography...
...To top everything off, Garp's eventual decision to magnanimously forgive his mate is handled as the turning point of the drama...
...And on...
...Allen also tries the old Public Broadcasting trick of attempting to ennoble what you see with what you hear...
...Director George Roy Hill has substituted a lot of tiresome shots of Garp (Robin Williams) at his typewriter: staring into space, pounding the keys, crumpling paper...

Vol. 65 • September 1982 • No. 16


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.