With Desperate Characters, adapted from a novel by Paula Fox, we get a man (Kenneth Mars) and a woman (Shirley MacLaine) in a practically loveless marriage.
Taking place circa 1971, it is a 1971 film. Adeptly Frank Gilroy wrote and directed it, and it shows us when personal discontent mirrors, as it were, social discontent. MacLaine tells Mars, after she is bitten by a cat, that if she becomes rabid it will be “equal to what’s outside.” The film is about cognitive dissonance and confusion, even frenzy, in human relations both intimate and casual. It is about ennui and the possible decline of society through personal desperation. An astute picture, it was undervalued by critics who were tired of films akin to profound, plotless Eclipse and A Passion.
Like Mars, Sada Thompson and Gerald O’Loughlin, the clearly attractive MacLaine is knowing and committed.
In his review of DC, Stanley Kauffmann called the two main characters “well-disposed people of the now-despised liberal persuasion.” Yes; it was despised then and still is. You’ll understand why from watching this film.
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