Picks and Pans Review: September

updated 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

It turns out that Woody Allen was just kidding with Interiors. This is the serious one. Make that grim, or maybe dismal: To understand how heavy it is, imagine eating 14 peanut butter sandwiches. It all takes place in a Vermont country house that seems to be the site for the annual convention of the North American Society for Sniveling and Self-Pity. Dianne Wiest is there on a separate vacation from her husband, with whom she is bored stiff. Sam Waterston is an ad writer idly trying to write a novel. Elaine Stritch, a once glamorous actress, is trying to come to terms with aging. Her most recent husband, Jack Warden, is a nuclear physicist who finds it a downer that his researches into the universe suggest "nothing means anything." Denholm Elliott is a lonely college professor who has a crush on hostess Mia Farrow. Even in this crowd, Farrow, as Stritch's daughter, is an all-star depressive. She has been sick. She has had a bad affair. She doesn't have a career or children or any money. And she has never gotten over the fact that as a teenager, she became famous for shooting her mother's gangster boyfriend. (Yes, this resembles the story of Lana Turner and her daughter, Cheryl Crane, but why poor Lana got dragged into this mess is a mystery.) So all of these people race from one room to the next to see who can get there first and start the complaining. If the tone were slightly different, this could be a parody of those Ingmar Bergman films Allen loves, but these scenes are played for bitter tears, not laughs. There are some moving scenes, such as Elliott confessing his love to Farrow, and most of the performances, taken individually, are convincing. Stritch is particularly effective, all bluster and gall, a tough old broad with a lump of callus where her heart used to be. She also has one of the film's few funny lines, looking at her hands and saying, "Can those be liver spots? Maybe I could merge them into a tan." She also does her share of ludicrous mourning, though, and soon the cumulative effect of everyone's woes turns tragedy to travesty. There's a foolish triangle involving Farrow, Wiest and Waterston, who imbues his role with a beaglish sort of avid stupidity. There's a question whether Stritch will take the house back from Farrow, leaving her even worse off. There are questions of suicide and perjury. Throughout, there is none of the perspective that makes Allen's humor so knowing. Nobody does anything even slightly redeeming. It is finally impossible to avoid thinking that misfortune couldn't befall a more deserving bunch of folks. (PG)

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