Sunday, May 8, 2022

Old Boyfriends: In Which Talia Shire Revisits Her Romantic Past to Forge Her Future

(Joan Tewksebury, US, 1979, rated R, 103 minutes)

When screenwriting duo Paul and Leonard Schrader (Blue Collar) came up with the idea for Old Boyfriends, they titled it Old Girlfriends. During the process from page to screen, they decided that a story about a troubled woman revisiting three foundational relationships in her past would make more sense. The gender switch created an opportunity for Talia Shire, in an unusually opaque performance, to step into a leading role after acclaimed supporting turns in Rocky and The Godfather II (directed by her brother, Francis Ford Coppola). 

Dancer-turned-director Joan Tewksebury, who wrote Nashville and cowrote Thieves Like Us, directs in a way meant to keep viewers off balance. Is Old Boyfriends a psychological thriller, an ensemble drama, a character study, or a road movie? The mix of genres, combined with the presence of John Belushi in a non-comedic role, damned the film both critically and commercially, but today's audiences are likely to view it more charitably.

Tewkesbury opens with an unexplained car crash before introducing Shire's Dianne Cruise, a clinical psychologist, who prepares to travel by Firebird from California to Colorado to look up Jeff (a very good Richard Jordan, The Friends of Eddie Coyle), a filmmaker who proposed to her three times. After turning him down for the third time, she went on to marry a never-seen sociology professor. 

When she shows up to his film set, wearing dark glasses, it isn't clear at first whether she intends to do him harm or to rekindle their romance. After sharing a night of passion, she bonds with his teenage daughter, Dylan (Richard Jordan's daughter, Nina), and then disappears just as quickly as she arrived. Jeff will spend the rest of the film trying to track her down. 

Dianne next visits Minneapolis-based Eric (John Belushi), a perpetual adolescent who rents formalwear by day and sings in a rock & roll band at night, giving the erstwhile Blues Brother the chance to perform three numbers, arguably two too many. Diane then shifts to a more provocative look, adding to the thriller vibe, and Eric finds her just as irresistible as he did in high school, but she has different plans for him. By reading diary entries in voiceover, she reveals the nature of each relationship as it occurred. 

She ends by seeking out a childhood sweetheart in Michigan, but fate has taken him out of the picture. Instead, she attempts to recreate their relationship with his younger brother, Wayne (an off-kilter Keith Carradine, reuniting with Tewkesbury after Thieves Like Us), but his instability shakes her out of her nostalgic reverie (John Houseman, as Wayne's therapist, proceeds to give her a stern talking-to about the dangers of transference). 

With the aid of Buck Henry's drily amusing private investigator, Jeff locates Dianne after piecing together the reasons for her journey. The conclusion suggests that she's made her peace with these unresolved entanglements. 

If Old Boyfriends isn't completely successful, not least in the way Dianne's suitors tend to outshine her in the charisma department, Tewkesbury's sole theatrical feature deserves better than it got in 1979. Richard Jordan, in particular, gives such a warm, relaxed performance that it's hard not to wish the actor, who passed away in 1993, had enjoyed a longer career.

Old Boyfriends is available on DVD and Blu-ray via Kino Lorber and streaming via Kanopy. Images from the IMDbThe New Yorker / Avco Embassy/Kobal/Shutterstock, Girls on Tops Tees, and

No comments:

Post a Comment