- Movie Rating -

Starting Over (1979)

| October 5, 1979

If you’ve seen James L. Brooks’ work on television with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spin-offs then you might reasonably assume that he had a movie like Starting Over on his mind all along.  Like the TV show, this movie deals with difficult relationship issues and personal problems that seem to come partially out of the shifting tides of the American culture – the Me Generation – and partially out of someone’s intense therapy sessions.

I wish I could say that it made for a better movie.  Starting Over touches on some sensitive issues, but it doesn’t exactly break new ground.  While it does deal with issues of divorce, abandonment, infidelity, male sensitivity, women’s empowerment, it’s not as insightful as Brooks seems to think it is.

Burt Reynolds breaks away from his good ‘ol boy comedies and – what do you know? – actually gives a performance.  He plays Phil Potter, a magazine writer who is cruelly and abruptly dumped by his wife self-involved wife Jessica (Candice Bergen) who is embarking on an ill-advised career as a singer-songwriter – ill advised because, well, she can’t sing.

Cast out into the wilderness of the lonely, Phil’s island of sympathy is his psychiatrist brother Mickey (Charles Durning) who is sympathetic to his problem and almost immediately introduces him to Marilyn Holmberg (Jill Clayburgh) a divorced schoolteacher who meet-cute in an interminable scene involving a lot of four-letter words and a misunderstanding about mistaken identities.  After a shaky start, Phil and Marilyn start to like each other and start dating but then, wouldn’t you know, Jessica comes back and wants to patch things up.

Let me just say, first of all, that I think the movie could have done without Jessica.  She’s irritating, selfish and, for me, drags the movie down – as does the scene where she tries to sing.  The union between Phil and Marilyn is really where the movie needed to start.  Just building from the aftermath of his breakup might have given us more time to get to know these two without the third-wheel intrusion.  I like this couple and I was interested in where their relationship was going.

What works beautifully is Burt Reynolds’ performance.  He pulls down the walls around his alpha-male image and shows a great deal of sensitivity and vulnerability.  It’s really a very revealing performance from him, perhaps trying to open up about who he really is inside.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t really leave you with a lot to think about.  Some interesting, complex characters have been established here and so too is the world in which they live.  Brooks provides a lot of really good writing, and good observations about the ways in which people relate to one another.  But in the end, I was left kind of empty, like the input didn’t equal the output.  I wasn’t as moved by the end as I was by the proceedings.  What we have here is the beginnings of a potentially great movie that you feel needed another run at the writing to excise some characters and to focus more on others.  It’s a good movie, but not all that it could have been.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized