Unlike the two celebrated Larry McMurtry adaptations that preceded it, the melancholy Hud (1963) and the wrenching The Last Picture Show (1971), Lovin’ Molly captures some of the author’s unique style but lacks any discernible narrative momentum. It doesn’t help that both the lead role and the director are miscast. Tart urbanite Anthony Perkins isn’t the least bit persuasive as a simple-minded Texas cowpoke, and diehard New Yorker Sidney Lumet has no idea how to shoot wide-open spaces, resulting in some of the dullest movie images ever made of Lone Star State locations. The rangy story spans 1925 to the mid-’60s, and the filmmakers unwisely use the same actors to play the protagonists in all of these time periods, leading to lots of clunky old-age makeup toward the end.
When the movie begins, free-spirited Texas girl Molly (Blythe Danner) courts two farm boys, Gid (Perkins) and Johnny (Beau Bridges). Meanwhile, she’s wooed by a third local, Eddie (Conard Fowkes). Molly makes no secret of the fact that she’s sleeping with all of them, which causes consternation for Gid and Johnny: They can’t decide which of them should propose, because neither wants to give up their open invitation to Molly’s bed. While the boys vacillate, Molly inexplicably marries Eddie. Yet even that change doesn’t crimp her style, because while married to Eddie, she conceives children with both Gid and Johnny. And so it goes throughout myriad long dialogue scenes and carnal vignettes, none of which do much to clarify the characters, because the narrative events in Lovin’ Molly comprise a long, monotonous march toward an inconsequential ending.
The biggest problem is an ineffectual screenplay by Stephen J. Friedman, who produced not only this film but also The Last Picture Show. In his sole screenwriting endeavor, Friedman fumbles at trying to cinematically replicate the delicate rhythms and subtle emotional undertones of McMurtry’s storytelling. As a result, Lovin’ Molly starts awkwardly, since Friedman doesn’t give the narrative enough focus out of the gate, then ambles endlessly, because he doesn’t know how to define the importance of events relative to each other.
Therefore the only rewarding elements of the film are the utterly authentic frontier jargon, presumably transposed wholesale from McMurtry’s book, and the acting. Despite his miscasting, Perkins puts across a strong petulant vibe that works more often that it doesn’t, and Bridges and Danner are both easy and natural. Among the film’s other players, the strongest is ’50s/’60s TV stalwart Edward Binns, who gives a muscular performance as Gid’s cantankerous father, especially when feasting on crisp monologues filled with crusty aphorisms.
Lovin’ Molly: LAME