Movies We Like
When we think of Woody Allen’s evolutionary assault on film history, we think of his amazing one-two-punch of Annie Hall in ’77 and Manhattan in ’79 (and some may add Stardust Memories to the streak in ’80). But usually forgotten (and some would say for good reason) is the little film in between them in ’78 called Interiors. After years of slapstick, the comic/director’s Annie Hall surprised audiences with a more mature and almost serious direction (and won lots of awards for it). But with Interiors, Allen turned the seriousness up to an eleven.
This was his bold attempt at a Bergmanesque (a term invented because of this movie) cold, depressing family drama; there’s not a joke in sight, not even a smile. It couldn’t be more bleakly Scandinavian, as heartbreak, envy, divorce, adultery, rape, icy silence and of course, suicide by drowning take their turn on the screen. Allen puts together an interesting cast of actors at their most introspective. Leading the way is his then-muse, Diane Keaton, along with Geraldine Page, Mary Beth Hurt, Sam Waterson, E.G. Marshall, Maureen Stapleton as well as impressive newcomer Kristen Griffith and, in a stroke of inspired casting, the great B-Actor Richard Jordan. At the time, not only was this a new direction for Allen, it was unlike anything any major American directors were doing.
Recently separated after years of marriage, serious corporate lawyer Arthur (Marshall) and interior decorator Eve (Page) move in different emotional directions. The more needy Eve assumes it’s temporary while Arthur has already moved on. Their three adult daughters are deeply affected by it but also have their own flawed relationships. Renata (Keaton), the seemingly mature poet, is married to a self-indulgent, less successful writer (Jordan). Joey (Hurt) is the most disturbed by the breakup and takes it out on her boyfriend, Mike (Waterson). While the youngest sister, Flyn (Griffith), a beautiful actress escapes most of the family drama by working out of town. When their father falls for the age-appropriate, free-spirited divorcee Pearl (Stapleton), who Joey considers a “vulgarian,” a chain of tragic events are set in motion like dominoes.
Interiors does have a passing resemblance to Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, in which three sisters work through their feelings towards each other as one dies of cancer. There is also a touch of Anton Chekhov (Three Sisters), Henrik Ibsen (A Doll’s House) and Eugene O'Neill (Long Day's Journey Into Night). But what it most resembles is the much more beloved film Allen would make eight years later, Hannah and Her Sisters, where three sisters deal with family and romantic issues, only this time with less gloom and more jokes and Woody on camera.
Though it’s so serious that it can almost feel like a spoof of a serious movie, it is actually exceptionally crafted and acted. The film looks lovely, shot by the great Gordon Willis (The Godfather 1 & 2, and all of Allen's films from Annie Hall to The Purple Rose of Cairo in ’85). Aesthetically, it really does feel like the middle child between Annie Hall and Manhattan; where one is brightly colorful and the other is in beautiful black & white, Interiors is shot with shadows (Willis’ early trademark) as well as ambers and cool autumn colors making it feel not quite icy, but certainly crisp. And while all of the performances are excellent, the two older actresses, Stapleton and Page especially, put on an acting clinic. Page’s Eve is an amazingly lived in character. Her damage and teetering self-esteem jump from the screen. Interiors would earn her a well-deserved Oscar nomination, her sixth. (She would earn two more, finally winning the statue for The Trip to Bountiful in ’86.) Speaking of awards, Stapleton was no slouch herself. She got her third nomination for Interiors and would finally win a few years later for her supporting role in Reds -- but for my money, her dynamic creation of the widowed Pearl is the performance of her career.
Interiors is often considered part of Allen’s “serious trilogy” along with September and Another Woman in ’87 and ’88, though Interiors is by far the more accomplished (though Another Woman also includes some terrific acting). Allen would straddle the “serious trilogy” many times with great films like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives, both often deadly serious, but also with some humor and Woody in an acting role. Later, he would return to the straight-on seriousness with Match Point, but since the film is more Paul Verhoeven than Bergman, in the end it’s easier for a mainstream audience to embrace. More than just a historical footnote for Allen or an acting showcase for its cast, while films of the era like An Unmarried Woman or Starting Over were looking at divorce from new angles and with fresh '70s attitudes, Allen went one deeper, bringing a tragic Scandinavian attitude, which now (in retrospect) makes Interiors one of the more effective dramas of the period.