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Lovers and Other Strangers
Weddings are inherently multi-layered affairs, invested with sentiment, bedeviled by chaos, and informed by dozens of ongoing small- and large-scale dramas. It's no surprise then that weddings are frequent inspirations for stories of wildly different stripes, from Robert Altman's A Wedding to Game of Thrones to Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates (and far beyond).
One of the things that distinguishes 1970's ensemble comedy Lovers and Other Strangers is the way that it uses a wedding to explore the dynamics of male-female relationships without relying too hard on the tried-and-true tropes of the wedding film. Sure, the film opens with groom-to-be Mike (Michael Brandon) neurotically ranting about his cold feet to his patiently listening fiancee, Susan (Bonnie Bedelia), but we're not being set up for a wild lost weekend or a contrived eleventh-hour wild goose chase to track down a missing groom. What is actually being set up is a world of turbulent relationships orbiting around Mike and Susan, stoking the fires of reasonable uncertainty without letting it all escalate into a four-alarm blaze.
The Oscar-nominated script is adapted by married actor-writers Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor (Made for Each Other) from their stage play (Straw Dogs' David Zelag Goodman is also co-credited with the adaptation), and the film's ongoing storylines tend to play out mostly in a series of two-hander scenes. This, coupled with the direction of TV veteran Cy Howard, gives Lovers and Other Strangers a slight big-screen-sitcom vibe, but the excellent cast frequently finds more honesty than shtick in their characters' oft-times broad situations.
Anne Meara plays Susan's older sister Wilma, who struggles mightily for her fair share in her marriage to Johnny (Harry Guardino). Gig Young and Cloris Leachman play Susan and Wilma's properly middle-class Irish Catholic parents; no one suspects that Gig has been carrying on an affair with Anne Jackson, which Anne threatens to expose at the wedding. On the groom's side, Bea Arthur and Richard "Take the cannoli" Castellano play Mike's traditional, loud Italian parents; Castellano scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination (helped by a heartfelt late-film monologue) but they work together beautifully as a comedy team. Together, they harangue their older son Ritchie (Joseph Hindy) for wanting to divorce Joan (Diane Keaton), arguing semi-dubiously that marital contentment relies on more than compatibility. Lastly, there's Mike's buddy Jerry (Bob Dishy), who tries to score with bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey), only to discover she has much much MUCH more on her mind than easy sex.
While there's familiarity in many of these plotlines, the writers really excel at finding fresh and unusual moments, reactions, and bits of dialogue within the framework of their more typical premises. There's a sweet tangent in which Mike and Susan decide to try out the bridal suite one night early; it serves no major plot purpose, but it offers the audience a satisfying, grounding moment with the characters. Similarly, the fate of potential divorcés Ritchie and Joan is left on an organic ambiguous note, showing that maybe the parents aren't completely off their rocker -- or that sometimes relationships between two well-meaning people die for no good reason.
The cast brings energy to the film, even as the script teases out stories that aren't as rich or promising as those that surround them. For example, the Gig Young/Anne Jackson infidelity storyline is a bit of a snooze. But even in this instance, the place where those characters find themselves at the end of the film is unexpected and clever. So it's still a win overall.
For the cast alone, this one is worth a watch.
This is a wild improvement over the 2004 MGM DVD. Sourced from a new 4K negative scan, the AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is mostly great. Colors are saturated and life-like, while fine detail is strong in many shots. There are in-born flaws in the film material that haven't been cleaned-up: a few small tears, some speckling, and some shots that look soft or dupe-y. It's noticeable, but a minor inconvenience.
No complaints from the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix. Dialogue is clear and understandable. The music -- including the Oscar-winning song "For All We Know" (later a hit for the Carpenters and Shirley Bassey) -- sounds full and well-supported. Optional English subtitles are offered.
- Gambin did a commentary for Kino's release of the other film called Made for Each Other, which he points out early in this energetic, tangent-filled discussion. Gambin goes big picture, comparing Lovers and Other Strangers to other popular works of the time, such as Sondheim's Company, to such an extent that he often gets behind the actual picture onscreen. An entertaining listen nonetheless.
Lovers and Other Strangers can't help but feel a bit dated in its examination of male-female relationships, but it's well-acted and rarely lazy. Much more of this film is fresh, funny, and unexpected than its well-worn framework might suggest. Highly Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, Don\'t Depend on Me, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.