Old 08-18-2009, 02:21 PM
Robert Altman's 3 Women

3 Women (1977)

I have gotten used to being disappointed by director Robert Altman with films like "Gosford Park," McCabe & Mrs. Miller," and "A Prairie Home Companion," but at least those films were not entirely bad. "3 Women" reaches a new low for Altman's unusual style, which is odd to say because it doesn't even feel like one of his films in the first place.

The film opens in a senior center where employees help the elderly walk around in a pool and take baths in special tubs. We meet one of these employees, Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a very chatty woman that no one seems to like. She has been given the task of showing a new employee, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), what her job will be. Pinky becomes increasingly fascinated with Millie and even becomes her roommate. Millie takes Pinky around to all of her favorite spots and introduces her to some of her friends, including the owners of her apartment building, Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier) and Willie Hart (Janice Rule). Things seem to be going well until we find out that there is much more to Pinky's fascination with Millie than we thought.

The first thing that should be noted about this film is Shelley Duvall's performance. It always continues to amaze me as to how she kept getting work with her terrible acting "skills" (see Kubrick's "The Shining" as an example for just how bad she can get). Here, she is as bland as ever, delivering every single line in the same bland way (though she somehow won Best Actress at Cannes that year, but don't ask me how. In the jury's defense, it was a tie with another actress). It makes it no surprise that no one in the film likes her as her character becomes quite annoying. It is also no surprise that Spacek is able to steal every scene from Duvall.

The characters themselves were another issue. I've already mentioned that Millie became increasingly annoying throughout the film, but aside from Duvall's lack of acting skills, I believe it was because of her sudden mood shifts. At first she is friendly, then gradually gets annoyed with Pinky, but then after Pinky's incident, she goes back to being all nice, and eventually reaches complacency in the end (more on the end later).

Pinky had this problem as well. She starts off all sweet but after the incident where she jumps off of the railing from the second floor into the swimming pool, she starts acting like a self-absorbed bitch, but goes back to her sweet self near the end. What bothered me a lot about her incident was that nobody evened asked whether or not she could have jumped on purpose. Everyone just assumes that she fell, which from the looks of it, would be really hard to do as the railing would have to be climbed over.

The film never hits any of the right emotional notes, nor is it able to make us sympathize with the characters at all, which makes the ending come off as very ineffective. The ending has been debated for some time, everyone coming up with their own opinions, but the most logical is that each of the three women in the film (Millie, Pinky, and Willie) represents a different stage of life.

Pinky is the young girl looking for a role model. Millie is middle age and trying to fit in with people who don't accept her. Willie is the eldest and about to give birth, thus entering motherhood. At the end, they all just kind of come together as one family, but by this point, we still haven't been given one reason to care about the characters, so we're just left with a very indifferent reaction to them.

It's interesting that Roger Ebert, in his "Great Movie" essay on this film, compares it to Ingmar Bergman's "Persona." That's a really good analogy for why this film doesn't work. Like "Persona," "3 Women" depends way too much upon interpretation. It busies itself so much with trying to squeeze in symbolism that it forgets to have actual substance, which, again, doesn't give us any reason to care about the characters or their situation.

It has been pointed out by Altman himself that he came up with this film from a dream that he had and that he tried to film it exactly as he remembered it. Dream can be a fascinating source to draw upon for any art form. It's too bad that this film felt more like one of those dreams that you forget as soon as you wake up. 2/4 stars.
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:35 PM
Duvall was great in The Shining, if only because of Kubrick's perfectionism. She was also good in Nashville and Annie Hall, granted she only had minor roles. I haven't seen 3 Women, but I don't mind Duvall at all. Also I love Altman.
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:46 PM
The Shining is a masterpiece, but for the life of me, I'll never understand why Kubrick (the greatest director who ever lived) allowed her to be in it. She's the only thing stopping that movie from being a four-star film, but even at 3.5 stars, it's still a masterpiece. She does fine in supporting roles. I agree she was fine in Nashville and Annie Hall, but when she tries to take on a big part a la Shining or 3 Women, her performance just never works. As far as I'm concerned, Altman has had only two masterpieces in his career (from the several films of his I've seen so far), MASH and Secret Honor.
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Old 08-18-2009, 09:13 PM
One of my favorite films from one of my favorite filmmakers...even if it does bear a superficial resemblance to "Persona" (as did "Images to "Repulsion").
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Old 08-18-2009, 10:57 PM
Originally Posted by Mr. Mxyzptlk View Post
Duvall was great in The Shining, if only because of Kubrick's perfectionism. She was also good in Nashville and Annie Hall, granted she only had minor roles.
Agreed. I probably sit in the minority on this too, but I think Duvall is much better than Nicholson in The Shining, whose performance is too far over the top for my liking.

Altman is the man, 3 Women is a great movie. It is very Bergmanesque, but then I fail to see how that's a problem.
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