Picks and Pans Review: The Bell Jar

updated 04/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sylvia Plath was a minor confessional American poet when she killed herself on a cold February day in 1963 in London. She subsequently became a cult heroine, and her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, became a rite of passage for young women. The film picks up Plath's life in 1953 when she is a scrubbed golden girl at Smith College, then follows her through a summer as a guest editor of Ladies'Day (in real life Mademoiselle), a gruesome suicide attempt and a nervous breakdown. Marilyn (The Other Side of the Mountain) Hassett plays the anti-heroine and hits as many highs and lows in acting as Plath did in life. Her performance is at times embarrassingly amateurish, at others beautifully sensitive. Julie Harris, as Plath's well-intentioned mother, adds some class, and Robert Klein is effective in a cameo as a disc jockey, but the best thing about the film is that it introduces talented Donna Mitchell as Plath's self-destructive best friend. Otherwise The Bell Jar suffers from maudlin lapses, and director Larry Peerce fixates on screaming scenes. Plath deserved better. (R)

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