A Woman Under The Influence (1974)

This John Cassavetes film is a whopper, two and a half hours of Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands) and her husband Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) in full-bore mid-Seventies serious mode, portraying a couple going through some trying times (largely a result of Mabel’s undiagnosed mental illness). The acting is intense, immediate, and almost free-associating at times. The script examines the role mental illness plays and how people respond to it. Personally, my own mental problems are on the opposite side of the spectrum so I found Mabel difficult to relate to at times; she was endlessly manic, on and on and on. It’s not my experience.

I’ve lived with people like that though, and I would say what Rowland’s performance was missing was the crash that inevitably follows a manic period. You could certainly argue that’s why she was so quiet after her hospital stay, but I’d say that was a different thing entirely. Caution, resentment, probably doped up on some pharmaceutical regime – that’s not the same as the kind of nihilistic ruminations I associate with bipolar disorder’s depressive side. But still, it’s a relatively minor quibble with a bravado performance.

Armchair psychiatry aside, I’m not sure how you’d diagnose Nick. His voice is kind of incredible, and that rat-a-tat delivery of lines just hammers his words into you. He clearly has problems of his own, but a love for his family lies behind his bellowing and bluster.

I’m not sure how much I can say about this that hasn’t been said a hundred times. It’s rightly considered a major classic of cinema, and watching it is like a masterclass in film making. I hadn’t seen it for many years and I do find my perspective on it has changed in the interval. What seemed rough around the edges or overbearing is now endearing.