Confession may be good for the soul, but for the cinema it has had mixed results. Lately, Hollywood’s middle-aged film-makers—those who haven’t been reliving the erector-set days of their youth by making specialeffects science fiction movies—have been putting their lives on the line, and on the screen. Paul Mazursky, Woody Allen, Blake Edwards, Bob Fosse and even, in The Last Married Couple in America, Natalie Wood have been plundering their psyches on film. Now, in Chapter Two, we have Neil Simon retelling his courtship of Marsha Mason. The role of Miss Mason will be played this evening by Marsha Mason.
The best film-makers can alchemize their obsessions into art. The others are just rouging up their narcissism as confession. But either way, it’s discomfiting to watch these movies. You feel you’re electronically surveilling a couple’s bedroom—only they've planted the bug and wired it to your seat. So when, in Chapter Two, writer George (James Caan) and actress Jennie (Mason) fall in love, get married and then almost break up over George’s inability to forget his dead first wife, questions about how true the story is get in the way of enjoying a fairly standard romantic comedy. When George tumbles depressively into Jane Eyre territory, you can almost hear Simon saying, “Look, back then I really hurt. I was always funny, but I really hurt.”
As a Broadway play, a lot of this worked—largely because Judd Hirsch (George) and Cliff Gorman (as his brother Leo) put zing and sing in every line. The characters’ bile was the resi-
due of their angry wit. But James Caan mumbles and moons through his role like a Method tragic hero. And all of Mason’s perkiness and acting sense can’t shake Caan out of his glum-andcoke mood.
As in The Last Married Couple, our heroine’s sassy girl-friend—the Eve Arden part—is played by Valerie Harper. Remember when, as TV’s Rhoda, Harper was pretty and funny? Since then, she seems to have spent too much time at a fat farm somewhere in the Gulag Archipelago. Her acting has lost its human roundness, too. It’s one thing to base your performing style on Nancy Walker, who played Rhoda’s tiny, crazy mother; it’s another to want to look like her.
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