- Movie Rating -

Willie & Phil (1980)

| August 15, 1980

I always say if you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well steal from the best.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Paul Mazursky’s obvious inspiration for Willie & Phil was Francois Truffaut’s beloved Jules and Jim and no one could blame him.  Nearly every filmmaker of his generation has been influenced by The French New Wave, the Italian Neo-Realists, German Expressionism or a combination of all three.

Yet, with Willie & Phil, he has the notes but perhaps not the music.  Jules and Jim was a character study headed into tragedy but this film isn’t quite that astute.  It tracks the irresistible allure of one woman by two men who fall in love with her.  Needless to say, it is a challenge to their friendship.  The men are Willie Kaufman (Michael Ontkean), a high school teacher who doesn’t believe in himself and Phil D’Amico, a photographer who perhaps believes in himself too much.  The two meet in the 1960s with the only commonality being that neither wants to be drafted and have to go to Vietnam.

They are the best of friends and are overjoyed when they meet the free-spirited Jeanette Sutherland (Margot Kidder), a transplant from the Midwest to Greenwich Village.  And, man oh man, do these three have a groovy time.  They drop acid, have a threesome and live the blitzed-out lifestyle that are the tenets of their generation.

The problem is that the movie isn’t organic enough for us to buy their relationship.  The actors do a good job but they’re really just running through generational routine so closely that we never sense anything individual in their personalities.  You can feel Mazursky’s passion for Truffaut but he’s not that kind of filmmaker.  The movie adds a narration track (provided by Mazursky himself) that gives the film direction but is really just a distraction.  This is a well-intentioned movie but you keep wishing that he would just make his own movie, something new and different and original.  The movie never finds its own voice, its own destination.  It’s not bad, it’s just not original.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized