Last night I watched Woody Allen’s brilliant Interiors, which I hadn’t seen in ten years. In between viewings, I discovered Bergman, and now of course, the parallels are obvious. The touch is lighter, the discourse is familiar, but subtle.
The somber tone was something audiences in 1978, used to Allen’s whacky comedies, were not exactly ready for. Vincent Canby described the culture shock of seeing Interiors in his original NYT review: “Not to be prepared for it is to embark on a Miami Beach vacation having just taken a total immersion course in 17th-century English literature.”
It’s an arty film about despair and depression, which takes itself very seriously (I mean just look at that poster!) — so it’s not to everyone’s taste. The film bombed when it was release, sandwiched between Allen’s biggest hit Annie Hall and his masterpiece Manhattan. But if you give in to it, Interiors is a rewarding work of great purity and power.
People often refer to it as one of Woody’s least Allen-esque films, but the recurrent themes of middle-age anguish, blocked creativity, infidelity and guilt are all there.
60 year-old Eve (Geraldine Page) sinks into manic depression when her husband Arthur leaves her. The film explores how their three adult daughters deal with the separation and the legacy of an upbringing in which feelings were stifled. Growing up in a household which places art above sentiment and criticism above compassion, the daughters strive to create art while struggling with the inability to express themselves within the context of family or relationships.
Oldest sister Renata (Diane Keaton) has become a poet, but questions the relevance of her work. The youngest, Flyn (Kristin Griffith), finds it difficult to be taken seriously as an actress. The middle sister (Mary Beth Hurt) hasn’t found her way and keeps her rage bottled up. The fragile harmony is broken, with apparently tragic consequences, when the father introduces everyone to his new wife (Maureen Stapleton), a life-thirsty philistine.
Many seem irked by the bleak outlook (everything is a shade of beige or grey), emotionless dialogue and constant navel-gazing, failing to see that is exactly what Woody Allen sets out to destroy with his masterful, optimistic ending. Look beyond the arty posturing and European ‘sensibilities’ and you’ll find a sharply observed, insightful dissection of WASP angst. Interiors is a subtle, superficially opaque drama which is eventually moving and life-affirming.