A Movie A Day: Quint on MAN, WOMAN & CHILD (1983) I bet you a dollar I can make you laugh before they can count to 10.
Published at: Aug. 22, 2008, 11:47 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I’m going to have do a quickie on this one. I’ve been up 23 hours at this point, but I had to get today’s column written and posted or else it wouldn’t hit until tomorrow morning. It’s all well and good since I don’t have much to say about today’s title anyway.
That’s not to say MAN, WOMAN & CHILD is a bad movie. I actually found it quite touching, if a little on the straightforward melodrama side of things.
We jump from yesterday’s Hammer Thriller THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY to today’s radically different movie via screenwriter David Z. Goodman, also responsible for the scripts to Sam Peckinpah’s awesome STRAW DOGS and ‘70s sci-fi kitsch masterpiece LOGAN’S RUN.
With MAN, WOMAN & CHILD, Goodman shares screenwriting credit with Erich Segal, author of the book upon which the film is based.
Basically the film is about how a family unit is shaken when the loving husband gets a phone call telling him the wild affair he had 10 years previously in France is about to come crashing home. His lover was killed in an accident and he learns for the first time that he had a son with her.
Martin Sheen plays Bob Beckwith, the adulterer who has to now confess to his wife, Sheila (Blythe Danner), that he was unfaithful. He feels the need to be there for his unknown son, even it means straining his marriage to the breaking point, forcing his wife to not only deal with the news of his affair, but also see the results of it in her own house, playing with their daughters.
Oh, and I swear to god Martin Sheen and his family live in Nancy’s house from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Sorry, had to make mention of that somewhere.
The acting is high quality throughout, obviously a passion project for Danner and Sheen. The direction by Dick Richards (MARCH OR DIE) isn’t anything to write home about, but it works. There is some very pretty imagery, but the movie falls into a weird period of cinema, some dead zone between the harsh grittiness of ‘70s cinema and the glam grainy neon of the ‘80s so on the whole it’s kind a bland looking movie.
But the strength of the story is on the actors and their characters. One particular favorite of mine pops up as Sheen’s best friend and lawyer, Bernie… Mr. Craig T. Nelson. I love the dude and his work, especially of this era. In fact, his small role in this film came just after his leading role in POLTERGEIST, one of my alltime favorites.
The two key relationships are Sheen and Danner and Sheen and his new son, Jean-Claude, played by Sebastian Dungan and I bought into both of those relationships, especially the father/son one.
Looking him up, Sebastian only has a few other credits… he went from the centerpiece of this movie to be the Paperboy in BETTER OFF DEAD (“I want my two dollars! TWO DOLLARS!!!”) to being a producer on TRANSAMERICA. What an odd career. But I’m surprised he didn’t act more. His work in this movie is very subtle. He’s a 10 year old that speaks with eyes more than his mouth… not very common.
Danner could easily have made her character completely unsympathetic and comes dangerously close when she starts hating on the adorable and innocent new addition to the family, but Danner plays Sheila as an incredibly hurt person, seemingly hanging off the edge of a great abyss that will destroy her whole family. And you can’t feel mad at her. It was her husband, afterall, who fucked around.
Final Thoughts: I’m not surprised this film has been forgotten for the most part, but it’s better than a lost film should be. It might not blow anyone’s socks off, but the story is raw and the performances make the melodrama tolerable, even affecting. My one point of contention… the youngest daughter is played by a girl who looks like a young Jake Gyllenhaal in drag and that disturbed me greatly. Just had to get that off my chest…