Sunday, July 9, 2017

To Find a Man (1972)

          The most intriguing films about teen life avoid oversimplifying young characters, following adolescents through adventures and mishaps as they broaden their worldviews—or don’t. Such is the case with To Find a Man, an offbeat dramedy with the unlikely subject matter of illegal abortion. Making her screen debut, Pamela Sue Martin stars as Rosalind McCarthy, a shallow Catholic schoolgirl who wants to terminate a pregnancy. Hence the title, since the “man” she seeks is not a romantic companion but rather a doctor willing to operate outside the law. Yet Rosalind is only nominally the protagonist, as the story revolves around her best friend, Andy (Darren O’Connor). Their families live near each other in a ritzy Manhattan neighborhood, but even though Andy has developed feelings for Rosalind, he’s never expressed himself. This hidden truth adds yet another layer of emotional weirdness to the situation once Rosalind enlists Andy’s help finding an abortionist. In the film’s best scenes, Andy’s willingness to do anything for Rosalind collides with her inability to behave responsibly. While the film doesn’t overtly slut-shame Rosalind, an understandable sense of bewilderment at her recklessness comes across.
          Based on a novel by S.J. Wilson, To Find a Man was written for the screen by the venerable dramatist Arnold Schulman, whose career includes some spectacular misfires as well as several fine scripts for film and television. He imbues every character in To Find a Man with specificity, from Rosalind’s guy’s-guy father, played by Lloyd Bridges, to a neighborhood druggist, played by Tom Bosley. Yet Schulman achieves his best work where it matters most: Andy and Rosalind. Andy is a bespectacled science nerd who finds the horny blathering of his adolescent pals juvenile, while Rosalind is so spoiled she frets at the prospect of even minor pain. A vivid sketch emerges of two people thrown together by circumstance, challenged by adversity, and changed by their discoveries about each other during the process. It’s a platonic love story of sorts, filled with vivid moments. In one memorable scene, Andy coaches Rosalind through the indelicate matter of providing a urine sample, even as Andy’s savvy housekeeper interrupts several times, sparking comedy-of-errors awkwardness.
          As directed by the reliable Buzz Kulik, To Find a Man strives to balance lighthearted storytelling and serious themes, mostly succeeding in that endeavor. (Some may feel the treatment trivializes the topic of abortion, while others may feel satirical elements don’t go far enough.) In the end, what keeps the piece grounded and interesting is the combination of Schulman’s crisp scripting and the credible performances. Martin does appealingly naturalistic work, incarnating a young woman sure to drive many lovers mad in the future, and O’Connor, who never played another major screen role, is just as good.

To Find a Man: GROOVY

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