Movie Review: Old Boyfriends (1979)
“…what happens when you see them again?”
Old Boyfriends (1979)
Director: Joan Tewkesbury
Cast: Talia Shire, Richard Jordan, Keith Carradine
Synopsis: When her marriage falls apart, a psychiatrist seeks out those of her former boyfriends who left the biggest impact on her life, mostly in a bad way.
Presumably, we’re supposed to feel some degree of sympathy for Dianne Cruise (Talia Shire – The Godfather, Rocky), the troubled heroine of Joan Tewkesbury’s talky – and rather tedious – drama, Old Boyfriends, but the overwhelming sentiment one feels is one of mild contempt for her perpetual state of self-absorbed discontent. She’s an egocentric wrecker of lives who’s destined to stumble from one doomed relationship to another, never able to find happiness or fulfilment, and always wondering why. Following the failure of her marriage, Dianne goes AWOL from her job as a psychiatrist(!) to travel around the countryside on a dull voyage of self-discovery, in the belief that once she can figure out who she was when she loved the important lovers from her past she will know who she is now, and maybe – sniff! – learn to love herself.
Yeah – someone you really want to spend 103 minutes with, right?
The first former lover on her list is Jeff Turrin (Richard Jordan – The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Yakuza), a documentary filmmaker with a talent for hanging spoons from the end of his nose. While Jeff might be one of Dianne’s great loves, he needs a little reminding of who she is when she approaches him in a bar one night. But, he’s a decent type. He has an absentee wife, and a wholesome teenage daughter, Dylan (played by Jordan’s own daughter, Nina), whom he has brought up on his own. The walls of his house are white, and the décor is modern (for 1979) – why would Dianne ever have given him up? Who knows? Paul and Leonard Schrader’s script isn’t telling. Anyway, it’s not long before Dianne is bonding with Dylan, and she and Jeff are reliving the more physical aspects of their past relationship. But for some unexplained reason – again, the Schrader brothers are frustratingly vague when it comes to her motivations – Dianne takes off without bothering to say goodbye to either of them.
She’s on a mission, see? Which is quite appropriate, because the next lover on her list is none other than ex-Blues Brother John Belushi (1941, Continental Divide), who plays cheesy lounge singer Eric Katz. Now, Katz isn’t an ex-lover at all: he’s the sleazeball who told all their schoolmates she put out for him when actually he sexually assaulted her and ran off with her panties. Eric now runs a costume company (“I always knew you’d get into women’s clothes,” jokes Dianne), but he’s still singing on the side, and invites her to witness him in action. Of course, singing isn’t the only action on Eric’s mind, which presents Dianne with the perfect opportunity to exact a little revenge for the way he humiliated her as a teen.
The third and final lucky chap on Dianne’s list was the real love of her life, so it’s something of a surprise when she confuses his younger brother Wayne (Keith Carradine – The Angel Doll, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) for him. Wayne, who is clearly nursing the kind of deep-seated psychological problems that illustrate the shallowness of Dianne’s, explains that his brother died in a car crash years ago. So, unable to reconnect with her old love, Dianne exploits Wayne’s fragile state of mind in order to get him into his dead brother’s clothes – and then out of them, triggering a psychological relapse in the boy which sees him back staring at the walls in a mental institute.
With just a few minor adjustments to Dianne’s character, the plot to Old Boyfriends would make a serviceable Fatal Attraction-style revenge thriller, but the Schraders are clearly aiming for something more deep and meaningful. Quite what that something is, though, is a mystery. Dianne Cruise is so poorly defined as a character as to be incomprehensible, and the only thing most right-thinking people will take from watching Old Boyfriends is that Dianne is exactly the type of person they want to steer clear of in real life.
To be fair, there are moments in Old Boyfriends which hint at the quality of writing for which Paul Schrader at least is well-known. Eric Katz might be an irredeemable sleaze, but occasionally moments of deep-seated self-loathing are allowed to peep through the boorish bravado. And the relationship between a detective hired by Jeff to locate Dianne after she disappears – which he does without leaving the sofa in his office – and his secretary is nicely intimated in a couple of shots and no words. This couple are in the early stages of an affair, no doubt about it. The film doesn’t come right out and say so because it doesn’t have to, and because, in the context of the story, it’s unimportant. But it’s important to these two people, and its inclusion gives a real sense of lives in the midst of living, rather than of minor characters created for a movie. Unfortunately, these moments are all too brief highlights in an otherwise confused and dreary movie that feels like it has something important to say but just doesn’t know what.
(Reviewed 5th April 2016)
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