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May 15, 2017

Movie Review: Interiors (1978)

Directed by Woody Allen                                              

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Mama Eve (Geraldine Page) is an elegant, highly vaunted interior decorator who proves to be a handful for her husband Arthur (E. G. Marshall) and three adult daughters Renata (Diane Keaton), Flyn (Kristin Griffith) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt). Maintaining an icy façade, Eve is overbearing, manipulative and controlling. One of her chief activities is staging elaborate suicide attempts in which she knows she will be rescued at the nick of time. It comes a no surprise that papa shortly declares at the dinner table that he will be leaving Eve for a trial separation. While the delusional Eve pines for reconciliation, dad shortly arrives at the family’s seaside home with his fiancée Pearl (Maureen Stapleton). The clash is immediate from the get-go; whereas the other characters dress in limpid grays, whites and browns, Pearl is first introduced in a blood-red dress (future superstar director Joel Schumacher served as the costume designer for this film, and Woody Allen gave him a prominent credit at the beginning of the film – and for good reason.) The sassy, brassy and outspoken Pearl grates upon the clan’s nerves. As Julie Kirgo points out on in the liner notes to this Twilight Time release – 3,000 copies, snap them up quick), while it is never made evident, Pearl is implied to be Jewish, and anti-Semitic sentiment seems to bubble just beneath the surface. Eve faces the fact that she and her husband will never be reunited and high tragedy ensues – but in a surprise twist, Pearl grants life to one of the daughters in the manner of the real-life Eve.

Woody Allen’s ninth film and first flat-out drama, Interiors has numerous surprises. As is frequently the case in his oeuvre, Allen focuses on a financially successful if profoundly unhappy family mired in “velvet woes.” The largely unsympathetic daughters are well-heeled and educated but deeply unsatisfied. “I feel the need to express something, but I don't know what it is I want to express. Or how to express it,” Joey exclaims at one point. The one daughter allowed to smile through the entire film, Flyn (Griffith), is a somewhat stereotypical bimbo actress who stars in TV movies, emerges as a likeable character – quite a break for Allen, who usually hates sunny, Hollywood types. Even more remarkable is how Stapleton emerges as the film’s unlikely heroine: just a bit crass and plain-spoken, her hands-on approach to life is at an odds with the other characters, bogged down in inconsequential self-analysis.

No less than John Waters picked up on and praised Allen’s creative use of sound in this film. Kept at a flat, even tone for the most part, the soundtrack leaps into overdrive as Page begins to tape up the windows and doors prior to turning on the gas in her home prior to yet another unsuccessful suicide attempt. The “angry” sound of the black tape being torn as it is pushed into the nooks and crannies is rendered loud and jarring. Allen uses this trick in his arsenal in a later scene, when Page and Marshall confront the fact that he is leaving her for good to marry Stapleton in a stately Catholic church (the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City). Page furiously sends votive candles clattering to the floor, the noise generating a jump-scare worthy of any B-movie horror flick.

Interiors hits all the high points of human existence: love, life, death and pain inspired in equal parts of Ingmar Bergman and Anton Chekov, Interiors proved to be Allen’s breakout feature, the point in his career where his original fans would bemoan the passing of his earlier funny films. Anytime is good enough to watch this for the first time or an overdue revisit. The sole extra on this Blu-Ray release is the film’s original theatrical trailer. 

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