A Woman Under the Influence ★★★★★

I'll be whatever you want me to be.

How do you write about a movie that is so true, you forgot you were watching a movie? It has been a few weeks now, and my thoughts still go back to this first endeavor into Cassevetes. They go back to the turbulent performances, the in-your-face camerawork, the utterly draining emotions. Will I ever forget A Woman Under the Influence? Not anytime soon, certainly not so.

I speak honestly when I say I forgot I was watching a movie. Tunnel-vision is something I don't normally get even during the most intense films, but everything in Influence gears toward this, the blunt acting and documentary-style cinematography particularly complimenting each other. The script, too, achieves an unusual degree of naturalism. Eventually the audience hits a point where the movie is so involving, the characters so real and in front of you, that you cannot conceive that they are, in fact, fiction. Gena Rowlands is exceptional as the housewife who is so afflicted by some sort mental ailment. Her husband (a stand-out Peter Falk) is trying so hard to love her, that your heart breaks as much as his when he realizes his own shortcomings as a husband.

Something else that fascinates me about this movie is the commitment Cassavetes had to the project. It was conceived when his wife, Gena Rowlands, decided she wanted her husband to direct her in a piece. Yet, when he wrote Influence as a stage play, Gena found it so overwhelming that she just knew she couldn't play the part eight times a week, prompting Cassavetes to adapt it into screenplay format. He did so (like a boss, might I add), but nobody would fund it. Who wants to watch a crazy middle-aged woman for 2½ hours?, they said. Such faith had the director in his material, he MORTGAGED HIS HOUSE to get money, in addition to having to solicit funds from friends and family. I got chills when I learned that, realizing in retrospect how it could not have paid off more.
But that's not all! After he finished making the film, nobody would distribute it. Cassavetes used A Woman Under the Influence to pioneer independent distribution, hiring a few guys to help him call theater to theater to theater, finally getting it screened all over the country. Later, it got nominated for Best Director. Wow.

Ultimately, and despite all of its oppressive realism, A Woman Under the Influence is a deceptively optimistic film. Be warned that it will haunt you, and haunt you it will. Yet, as time takes its toll on the experience, hopefully you will learn as I have that people are worth love and commitment, even the most broken ones.

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