Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)


          Overwritten and shrill, to say nothing of ferociously demeaning to women, The Owl and the Pussycat is a weird relic of the sexual revolution—the movie’s preoccupation with libidinous urges recalls a historical moment during which horniness was conflated in the public conversation with progressive thinking. To say this so-called comedy hasn’t aged well is an understatement, and in fact were it not for the presence of a certain superstar in the leading female role, chances are The Owl and the Pussycat would have long ago disappeared from mainstream exhibition. Yet there Barbra Streisand is, at the apex of her post-Funny Girl popularity, spewing one-liners and wearing sexy outfits while playing a prostitute who falls into an unlikely romance with a struggling author.
          Based on a play by Bill Manhoff—and overhauled significantly by screenwriter Buck Henry—the story begins when uptight writer Felix (George Segal) notices an attractive young woman in the window of an apartment within his complex. When he realizes she’s turning tricks in her pad, Felix reports the woman to their mutual landlord. A short time later, the woman, whose name is Doris (Streisand), shows up at Felix’s doorstep demanding a place to crash since his tattling got her evicted. Most of the movie takes place during this duo’s first night together: Doris berates Felix for his stuffiness while Felix begs her to stop talking so he can sleep. Felix also tries to pretend he’s not aroused, even though Doris struts around in a peekaboo costume complete with embroidered hands decorating the cups of her brassiere.
          Some of the movie’s banter is clever, like a running gag of Felix baffling Doris with polysyllables, but Doris is so obnoxious it’s hard to see any attraction past the physical. Similarly, Felix is a judgmental prick who lies about his literary achievements and avoids mentioning his engagement to another woman. These are awful people, so only the charm of the performers makes them remotely palatable. Director Herbert Ross does a fine job of keeping things lively through movement and pacing, and he ensures that Streisand looks as alluring as possible. In fact, even though the movie supposedly presents Streisand as a strong-willed individual, Ross camera never misses an opportunity to ogle her curves. Furthermore, the picture’s ending finds Doris begging for a louse’s approval. There’s a smidgen of wit here and there, and both the acting and filmmaking are strong given the limitations of the material, but the misogyny on display throughout The Owl and the Pussycat is consistently unpleasant—so proceed with caution.

The Owl and the Pussycat: FUNKY

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