This offbeat melodrama dramatizes the repercussions of accidental incest. Directed by journeyman helmer David Miller, the picture is competent and even rather sensitive, benefiting from sincere leading performances by Meredith Baxter-Birney and Scott Hylands as lovers who discover they’re siblings. (Don’t be fooled by Lana Turner’s top billing, since she has an important but secondary role.) The question, of course, is whether the world needed a story about incest, since it’s not as if the circumstances portrayed in the narrative reflect some recurring social problem. Quite to the contrary, the filmmakers twist themselves in knots to contrive a situation resulting in a brother unknowingly marrying his own sister.
Anyway, architect Michael (Hylands) has a meet-cute with single girl Patricia (Baxter-Birney). They fall in love quickly, arranging to wed in Canada at the home of Michael’s parents, Howard (Robert Lansing) and Marian (Celeste Holm). All the while, Patricia’s wealthy parents, Ben (Robert Alda) and Claire (Turner), are traveling overseas. Eventually, the newlyweds visit Ben and Claire with photos from their nuptials, and Claire recoils when she sees a photo of Howard. Turns out she had an affair with him while she was courting Ben, and she never told Ben their daughter was fathered by another man. She never informed Howard, either. That is, until she calls him up for a meeting and shares the sordid news. Adding urgency to the whole business is the revelation that Patricia has become pregnant. How can Claire tell Ben of her infidelity? How can both sets of parents break their children’s hearts? What will Patricia do about the baby? You get the idea.
Even though the premise of the movie is contrived, the rest of Bittersweet Love is reasonable. The way that Claire’s secret is revealed to characters one at a time makes sense, while also creating opportunities to experience different types of shocked reactions. Howard, who hadn’t yet met his wife when he slept with Claire, responds with pragmatism and sadness, his loved ones the victims of Claire’s duplicity. Ben, conversely, reacts with the pain of betrayal. As for Michael and Patricia, their reactions comprise most of the film’s content, and it’s interesting to see how the choices the filmmakers make about who accepts and who rejects the new reality parallel traditional gender roles. One could even go so far as to say that a few grains of truth find their way into the overheated soup of the film’s various emotional confrontations.
Bittersweet Love: FUNKY