A Woman Under the Influence ★★★★★

A devastating masterwork of one woman's downward spiral and a dry, humanist deconstruction of acceptable social politics. It is a film about family, commitment, desperation, redemption, endurance and the struggles of the working class. It is a film that sucked me right in with jaw-loosening, goosebumps-inducing acting. Gena Rowlands transforms herself. She becomes the distraught Mabel, an unimaginable character. It is so unconventional and uncompromising what she does in the first half, slowly losing her sense of "normal" public and private behavior. Her performance is nothing short of astonishing. Is she becoming mentally ill, or has she always been this way? Is she really mentally sick at all? The conclusion of her mental state lays entirely on the viewer. This is the most rewarding aspect of the film.

However! The real stunner is Peter Falk, in the much more difficult role of the rational husband slowly driven to painful consequences and contradictions in character. He is asked to bear so much weight as the supporter of his crumbling family, it is hugely sympathetic. What he accomplished here in collaboration with Cassavettes is breathtaking. These two leads are electric together, and I was left fairly speechless throughout.

Cassavetes always keeps things on edge. You're never aware when a scene will end, where he will cut to another sequence. It is something to watch. There are many sequences that feel like echoes of the final act in There Will Be Blood. Drawn out acting clinics where the filmmaker lets the performers explode with bottled up energy.