I was digging around the filmography of Gena Rowlands when I stumbled upon a group of films that she had made with her husband, actor-director John Cassavetes. I was curious to watch their films together as some had really good subject matters, but I didn't know where to start. That was a few years ago, and I never got around to watching any of their films until now. It can be said that A Woman Under the Influence is one of Cassavetes' acclaimed work, garnering him a nod for director, with Rowlands scoring a best actress nomination. A film centered on family life, it divulges into the personal and social effects garnered due to the mother's mental instability.
Nick and Mabel are introduced in the film as a solidified family - Nick has a job that puts food and a roof over his family with Mabel as a housewife raising their three children. It is even implied that because of their busy schedules, neither one really has time for the other - until Mabel starts to become strange when Nick informs her that he cannot be home. In due time, the film reveals that Mabel is not how she was portrayed in the beginning, that there is something off and strange about her character. It becomes more evident through her actions, whether she is with her children, or around guests, or even in a public setting. Her behavior has become a nuisance to Nick, whom exhibits both frustration and patience over his wife's antics.
The film is not narrative centered, but works as a character study in various ways - the vague diagnosis of Mabel's state, and how Nick and his family are handling the situation. The reactions of the characters vary depending on their relationship with Mabel. Since it was never implied how Mabel's state of mind came to be, the audience is left guessing if it's just a presented case, or was rooted in something else, like her family life with Nick or her relationship with her children.
The main factor to take from this film is the wonderful performance of Gena Rolands. I am in awe and in confusion of her character. Rolands does not do 'crazy' in a way that you would label her as such. Rather her performance allows the audience to sympathize and root for her, at the same time paving way to understand where Nick (played by Peter Falk). She steals the screen, from the way her face contorts, to her lively movements, down to her motherly affection towards her children. It's easy to miss her when she's not on the screen.
The way the film was shot allows the audience to view the film like they are part of the action. The camera angle shifts, allowing the reactions of the characters to be captured without the audience having to guess what they thought of the situation. Because of the nature of the film, it's a bit of a slow burn. There really isn't much of a climax, as it's not that kind of film, and while it spends plenty of time with Nick and Mabel, the run time was a bit too long for me. As a first Cassavetes film, I'm not really certain on how I feel about it. On one hand, Gena Rowlands is amazing , but I don't have much basis on how Cassavetes does his films; the rest of his filmography might be more character studies and are a bit of a slow burn.
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper
Director: John Cassavetes