Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979)

          Presenting a weird fusion of modern explicitness and old-fashioned storytelling, the racially charged melodrama Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is interesting not because of cinematic quality—in many ways, it’s an embarrassingly bad piece of work—but because of its peculiarity. Based on a novel by William Inge that came out in 1970, the movie would have seemed hip and provocative if released, in virtually the exact same form, the same year as the novel. What a difference a decade makes. Arriving at the end of the ’70s, the film seems stylistically ancient, the acting and camerawork as stiff as screenwriter Polly Platt’s on-the-nose dialogue, and the sexual stuff, while still fairly bold for a mainstream movie, lacks the power to truly shock. Viewed outside of its original historical context, the film fares even worse. Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is too well-intentioned to qualify as a so-bad-it’s-good atrocity, and yet it’s also far too wrongheaded to work as legitimate entertainment.
          Set during 1956 in the small town of Freedom, Kansas—the name of the town accurately indicate the degree of the movie’s subtlety—Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff opens by exploring the life of 35-year-old schoolteacher Evelyn Wyckoff (Anne Heywood). A neurotic virgin, she’s so edgy about her lack of sexual experience that she has periodic breakdowns and suicidal thoughts. In moments of clarity, she’s a respected educator and a passionate advocate for progressive causes. After her physician, Dr. Neal (Robert Vaughn), suggests getting intimate with a man is the cure for what ails her, Evelyn tries, unsuccessfully, to hook up with a lecherous bus driver named Ed (Earl Holliman). Meanwhile, she explores her difficulties with a shrink, Dr. Steiner (Donald Pleasance). And then, almost completely out of nowhere, a young black janitor named Rafe Collins (John Lafayette) rapes Evelyn in her classroom. That’s when the story spins in bizarre directions. Instead of reporting Rafe to authorities, Evelyn becomes his lover, participating in steadily more humiliating trysts even as the risk of discovery increases.
          Listing everything that rings false about Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff would take quite a while, but, briefly, the title character’s psychological state defies understanding, the portrayal of the Rafe character is startlingly racist, and the integration of a Red Scare subplot doesn’t work. Yet Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff is weirdly compelling, at least for the cinematically adventurous. Even though Heywood’s performance is rigid and unbelievable, she’s watchably odd. Carolyn Jones, late of TV’s The Addams Family, gives a fine if too-brief turn as Evelyn’s best friend. And the film’s technical presentation is excellent in a museum-piece sort of way. Rarely have such lurid scenes been captured with such uptight professionalism.

Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff: FUNKY

No comments: