Saturday, October 12, 2013

One Is a Lonely Number (1972)

         Several years before Paul Mazurzky made An Unmarried Woman (1979), now generally considered one of the definitive studies of how females experienced the ’70s divorce spike, MGM released this competent but vapid drama about a woman in her twenties whose ordered world is rocked when her husband abruptly quits their marriage. Over the course of the story, the heroine attempts to find herself in romance and work, all the while convinced her husband will take her back. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with this subject matter, and the screenplay by David Seltzter—though unrelentingly trite in many important regards—approaches the heroine’s crisis with respect. Unfortunately, there’s so little substance to this journey that One Is a Lonely Number disappears from the memory at the same moment it’s unfolding. This ephemeral quality is exacerbated by Trish Van Devere’s stiff performance in the leading role. Although Van Devere is lovely in an understated, East Coast blueblood sort of way, she delivers all of her dialogue with such formality that she botches this shot at an iconic performance.
          Van Devere plays Amy, the housewife of a San Francisco college professor. After the professor dumps Amy in the opening scene, she finds work as a lifeguard at a public pool, and the position comes complete with a lecherous employment-office staffer who makes passes at her. Amy consoles herself with the company of friends including elderly grocer Joseph (Melvyn Douglas), and eventually she meets gentle-mannered stud Howard (Monte Markham) at a party. While enjoying her new romance with Howard, Amy contrives with her lawyer to force her husband into returning to San Francisco from Reno, where he’s establishing residency for divorce. She also commiserates with gal pals Madge (Jane Elliot) and Gert (Janet Leigh), the latter of whom runs a support group for divorced women. (The movie would have benefited from a lot more Leigh, who plays her character as a likably saucy broad.) Director Mel Stuart shoots One Is a Lonely Number smoothly, employing the loping hills of San Francisco for atmosphere, and the picture captures a fashion moment with its cavalcade of awful polyester clothes. Alas, the only real emotion in the picture stems from Douglas’ poignant turn, especially since the main character is a doormat for most of the story. By the time Amy grows a spine in the movie’s final scenes, it’s hard to care much what happens, even though her plight should be highly relatable. FYI, MGM made a pathetic attempt at re-releasing this middling movie after its initial box-office nonperformance by reconfiguring the title as Two Is a Happy Number.

One Is a Lonely Number: FUNKY

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