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Monday, September 26, 2011


Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), and
Flyn (Kristin Griffith) stare longingly out the window in Interiors.

3 Stars

After directing the Best Picture-winning Annie Hall, Woody Allen was essentially given the keys to the castle, and with them, he made Interiors, his first foray into pure drama—a genre he'd later perfect with Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. Watching him go serious for the first time, however, is an interesting, albeit frustrating, experience. Clearly, there are some growing pains for Allen as a director, and they show themselves in this film. Ultimately, though, Interiors is a rewarding film, full of real characters and brimming with ideas. They just don't all come together the way you'd hope or expect.

Like most Allen films, this one follows a group of artistic individuals—a upper-class husband and wife, as well as their children, all of whom are unhappy with something in their lives. The man is Arthur (E.G. Marshall), and he's fed up with his wife, Eve's (Geraldine Page) quiet way of controlling him and demanding perfect. So he announces over dinner that it's time for a trial separation. This sends Eve over the edge, and her two daughters, Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), are left to pick up the pieces. But they have their own problems. Renata's husband, Frederick (Richard Jordan), is a heavy drinker and cripplingly insecure about his writing talents. Meanwhile, Joey is driving—jealous of their other sister, Flyn (Kristin Griffith) and her acting career, while Joey's husband, Michael (Sam Waterston), struggles with the behavior of his wife and her mother. All in all, not the world's healthiest family, and it all comes to a head when the father announces that he's taking another wife, the vivacious Pearl (Maureen Stapleton).

These are not pleasant individuals and are very unlike any Allen characters you've seen prior to this film's 1978 release. Many of them are distinctly unlikeable, while others are a little more complicated, but there's not a person onscreen—save for maybe Pearl—whom you'll care for unconditionally. Everyone has their demons, Allen is saying, and often it's the ones you love most that will bring out the worst in you.

What the film lacks in joy, it makes up for in technical prowess. It's a gorgeously shot film, and everything populating this world (from the icy water of the ocean to every knick-knack in the characters' homes to the very drab dress) means something. As a result of this and the mostly unpleasant characters, you'll leave Interiors feeling very chilly. It's in the hours afterward that I found a great appreciation for the film, its themes, and Allen's willingness to challenge himself and his audience.

Where the film missteps for me is Allen's attempt to totally reinvent his cinematic identity with this film. In order to achieve the necessary dourness, he removes himself as an actor—a fair decision. But in doing so, he loses a little something—the, for lack of a better word, "Woody-Allen-ness"—that define his movies. You can't deny the man is an auteur, but besides a few token things here and there—the presence of Keaton, the insecurities of artistic abilities—there's nothing that defines this movie as something that's his. As a great admirer of his, I missed that. It's something he pulled off later—in the aforementioned Crimes and Misdemeanors—but he doesn't manage to insert himself into this film, and I thought that was disappointing.

The acting, however, is of the highest caliber. Geraldine Page is astounding as Eve, the kind of mother whom means well but isn't warm or stable enough to let her children and husband discover their own identity. She's an interior designer by trade, and her pursuit of perfection with her work carries over to her family life where those she loves ultimately resent her. But she just can't help it, and Page is quite able to convince us that, though her character is flawed, deep down, she loves her family unconditionally.

Diane Keaton has been better—like in Annie Hall—but this role is definitely a challenge, and she does an admirable job with it. Renata has many similarities to some Keaton's other characters, like her creativity and deep-thinking nature. But she's miserable, and Keaton isn't afraid to take her in some surprisingly unpleasant directions. Matching Keaton's work is the lesser known Hurt as Joey, the insecure sister and the one who's forced to shoulder the burden that is Eve. Maureen Stapleton also shines in a smaller part. Her energy provides the film with a welcome jolt at its mid-point.

Interiors isn't a film I loved, but it provided a lot of food for thought. I wonder about ever wanting to revisit it, but it did linger with me a lot longer than some of Allen's lighter efforts, like Love and Death or even Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But it's a nifty little film that isn't afraid of taking chances, and you have to respect that, even if you don't ultimately like the direction it goes in.

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