Among John Cassavetes’ many seminal contributions to American independent cinema, A Woman Under the Influence has made perhaps the most indelible mark on our consciousness in its portrayal of a woman who—according to the filmmaker himself in a 1975 interview—“is not crazy. She’s just frustrated beyond belief. She’s trying to be an individual” in a society that doesn’t allow women the same cathartic freedom of expression as men.
In one of the most memorably vulnerable and heart-wrenching performances from the golden era of the American New Wave, the incomparable Gena Rowlands plays Mabel, a housewife and mother of three who tends to make other people uncomfortable in social settings. She sings and dances, gesticulates wildly, drinks too much, says inappropriate things. Her behavior makes her blue-collar husband Nick (Peter Falk) uncomfortable too—and angry. He yells at her, hits her, experiences remorse, demands that she “just be herself.” It’s a hell of a mixed message.
But then, Nick is one hell of a mixed-up guy. He loves Mabel desperately but doesn’t know what to do with her after one too many harrowing incidents, other than have her institutionalized for six months despite her anguished insistence that “I always understood you and you always understood me, and that’s all it was and that’s it.” Just how different things will be upon her return remains to be seen.
Cassavetes’ exemplar of the slow-burning family drama is screening in honor of the late Denver Film Society artistic director Brit Withey, who loved the film.
Producer: Sam Shaw | Editor: David Armstrong, Sheila Viseltear | Cinematographer: Mitch Breit, Al Ruban | Screenwriter: John Cassavetes
Cast: Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands, Katherine Cassavetes