Picks and Pans Review: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

updated 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Based on short stories by Grace Paley, adapted for the screen by John Sayles and co-directed by three independent filmmakers, this loosely connected trilogy weaves an affecting, sometimes humorous portrait of three New York women. They're all struggling to achieve self-sufficiency amid the pressures of failing romances and the vagaries of family life. Their stories combine in a spare, intimate film with the look of a home movie: oddly its clumsy cinematography and fuzzy sound seem appropriate. In the first and most assured segment, directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, Ellen (Tender Mercies) Barkin portrays a 26-year-old trying to keep her three children fed and happy after her husband abandons the family. She spends days hassling with rude welfare clerks and nights staring aimlessly out her window, until she finds unexpected comfort when an old high school flame, now balding, overweight and married, reenters her life. Barkin's performance is disarmingly simple and direct as she progresses from a frightened, deserted wife to a tough single parent with a wry sense of humor. The second segment, directed by Hovde and Mirra Bank, is about one of Barkin's neighbors, Lynn (Broadway's Brighton Beach Memoirs) Milgrim. She lends a brittle intensity to her role as a bitter divorcée cowed by her responsibilities to her two sons, to her neglectful lover and to her parents, who are growing dotty in a gloomy retirement home This confusing and strangely flat episode revolves around a macabre, hysterical visit that Milgrim makes to her parents, during which she realizes she must look to herself and her children for emotional stability. The final and funniest segment, directed by Bank, concerns a kindhearted social worker, Maria (Daniel) Tucci. Long-divorced and childless, she counsels teenage drug addicts and unwed mothers. She worries constantly about her father, a critical old man obsessed with his own mortality. When she attracts a cabbie 15 years her junior—played with warmth and wit by Kevin (Footloose) Bacon—she has an impulsive affair with him and becomes pregnant. Soon Tucci's teenage clients are offering advice to her. Tucci's natural grace and subtlety add to the tale's charm; her pained, ironic smile at once obscures and reveals her fear and loneliness. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute is a fitting title for this unique film: It has much to say about the hardships, surprises and rewards women encounter in the search for love and autonomy. (Not rated)

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