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The plot, such as it is, revolves around twin predicaments--MacLaine is bit by a feral cat she has been feeding, and Mars' longtime law partnership with Gerald O'Loughlin has just dissolved, to the consternation of both men. It doesn't sound like much, and it really isn't, but under Gilroy's low-key direction and with his absolutely unmatched ear for dialogue, it all unravels (literally) as the perfect dystopian portrait of life crammed into a city where everyone is aching to get out.
MacLaine's Sophie is alternately elegant, earthy, wounded and superior, and MacLaine has never been more commanding on screen than in her portrayal of a modern woman caught in the throes of a rabid society that has just reached out and touched her in a very real way. Mars is simply a revelation in this role. If you know him only through his inspired work in such Mel Brooks films as The Producers and Young Frankenstein, prepare to be amazed at the brutish power of his Otto, a brutishness buried under layers of mild-mannered banalities and well-heeled mores. The shocking denouement, when the couple finds that their country refuge has been vandalized, is a tour de force for both actors and will leave most viewers squirming uncomfortably as the webs these two have weaved with each other ensnare them. […]
Desperate Characters is certainly not a film for those who need slam-bang action sequences or conflict spelled out in terms of good guys versus bad guys. For those willing to experience characters through their dialogue (and their silences), this is a widely undervalued gem that sums up the beginning of the independent film movement brilliantly, and it contains arguably MacLaine's finest performance ever
This film should have netted both MacLaine and Mars Oscars. There's simply no justice sometimes. A downbeat, depressing film Desperate Characters certainly is, and yet it reveals some very deep truths about a certain stratum of city-dweller, and does so in a devastating way. If you think of MacLaine as a flighty comedienne, prepare to be stunned by her power and command of a difficult role in this film. Highly recommended. --Jeffrey Kauffman of DVDTalk.com
Top Customer Reviews
Paula Fox's beautifully claustrophobic and depressing 1970 novel seemed a natural to be filmed because of its compressed time frame over one long unhappy weekend; it might still make an absolutely first-rate film some day, but this Frank D. Gilroy film made a year after the novel was published doesn't quite pull it off. Gilroy was experimenting quite a bit in this film with shots of very dark city streets and with intentionally disorienting jump cuts to shots above the characters after intense conversations that make them look trapped and hopeless; he also deliberately made the Bentwoods' clothes, hairdos, and homes look as awful as possible (even by the standards of one of the least stylish periods in American cultural history). To say the result isn't very cheerful is putting it mildly; but it's also very off-putting in narrative terms.Read more ›
There is a strange encounter between MacLaine and a supposed friend, Ruth, who she sees on the street hailing a cab. MacLaine tries to reach out to her, and Ruth is clearly not interested in conversing with her, only answering her questions. Shirley asks if they can have lunch some time. "I don't eat lunch anymore, I'm on a diet" is Ruth's excuse. Then Shirley says "I'll call you." Ruth says something as she enters the cab, but we can't hear it because of horns blowing on the street. Shirley then turns to a stranger standing close by and asks "Did she just say for me to go away? It doesn't really matter, I'm just curious." The woman doesn't answer her. And of course it mattered to her--she was just saving face.
Again, I think all of us can relate to some of these odd encounters, where MacLaine seeems to be trying to make sense of a world to which she has increasing difficulty relating.
The sound and picture quality on the DVD are beautiful. I own 2 VHS copies of the film. The quality on both is poor. It is one of those SP mode cheap videos and both copies skip, once in a while.
If you haven't seen this film and you like serious dramas with great acting and a fabulous cast, then you are in for a real treat if you buy this film on DVD.
The film received excellent reviews, when it came out, but it was not widely distributed, outside of the major U.S. cities. MacLaine won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for this film.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Sada with Jack Somack was the example that Sophie had to face. All three performances were excellent. Sada was superbPublished 11 months ago by Linda Streeter
This is required reading for school. It's the only reason I got it. The delivery was timely but don't get this movie for entertainment.Published on July 11, 2013 by J
This is one strange flick. I've always liked Shirley Maclaine, and wondered why I had never heard of this movie (I saw it listed on the Internet Movie Database. Read morePublished on August 1, 2010 by Stanwyck
This movie is about the angst of a middle-aged couple in New York City. It's boring, but I'm giving it four stars because of Shirley MacLain's nude scenes. She has two. Read morePublished on February 8, 2010 by Paul Kao
I can see why this film was held up from DVD release. I was interested in it because it starred Shirley McClaine, one of my favorite actresses. Read morePublished on August 25, 2008 by J. R Sategna