Woody Allen’s Interiors is a film that could have easily fallen into melodrama. The characters and situations presented in this film can be found in other, lesser and more watery films, but Allen elevates them. What’s also curious about Interiors is that it doesn’t seem like a Woody Allen film, or at least it doesn’t match the stereotypical view of his work; as I was watching I had completely forgotten that this was made by the same guy who just a few years prior did Sleeper and Love and Death. Yes, Love and Death contains complex ideas and issues, but they’re mostly there because the film is lampooning the ways Russian novels presents and addresses them. Annie Hall was released a year prior, but it’s still recognizably Woody Allen, of course because of his being in the film, but also because of the comic touches. Interiors has almost no comedy. In fact, while people laud Annie Hall, after seeing Interiors I can say that the former is not only inferior, but seems more like a transitional work, bridging Allen’s comedic work toward his deeper, dramatic films.
The movie centers around an upper-class family dealing with the divorce of Arthur (E.G. Marshall) and Eve (Geraldine Page,) an interior designer. Arthur feels suffocated by the controlling and passive-aggressive Eve and one day declares that he wants a mere “separation” (i.e. he wants to get the fuck out of there); Eve is shattered and attempts suicide. The grown daughters–Joey (Mary Beth Hurt,) Renata (Diane Keaton,) Kristin Griffith (Flyn)–are shown having to deal with their father seeking to marry a floozy and their mother’s mental descent, but they themselves also seem to be broken, because of their marriages and lack of satisfaction toward themselves. Joey is the favored daughter by Arthur, but has trouble with commitment, passing from job to job, while her husband Mike (Sam Waterson) wants to start a family, perhaps believing that having a child will mend their relationship. Renata is a successful writer who has lost her faith in writing while her husband Frederick (Richard Jordan,) also a writer, is an alcoholic embittered by critics who’ve panned his latest work. Perhaps the most “level-headed” in the family is Flyn, the youngest and a television actor, but even though she seems vacuous at first she later reveals doubts over her acting abilities and an awareness about how others see her, but this could just suggest that she suffers from the same tendency toward self-doubt as her sisters.
So, I think what I’ve just described is basically the same story as most melodramas (sans the superficial differences,) but everything is pushed upward both by Allen’s writing and directing, as well as the excellent acting. There are a number of things that keep Interiors from dropping into melodrama, one is the realism. Renata and Frederick could have easily have become stereotypical suffering-artist types, and in some ways they still are, but they’re made interesting because they’re well drawn-out and allowed depth. A scene that could have been execrable is when we see Eve attempts suicide, but instead of dramatic music and waterworks and mad screaming, we get a methodical Eve taping-up the openings and creaks of doors and windows, and turning on the gas stove. She then walks into the room and lies on the couch; no close-ups. Instead of going all “Hollywood” the suicide attempt is displayed realistically. Another typical scene made real is when a drunk Frederick attempts to rape Flyn, but like the scene with Eve’s attempted suicide, there is no flaring music and melodrama. There is also no visible aftermath of the scene as questions remain about the consequences. Other movies, specifically melodramas, would have milked all this drama, but Allen simply depicts its happening while not providing a resolution as we don’t see Flyn go to her sisters (will she ever mention what happened?) and it’s never mentioned at the end–life just goes on.
Allen also shows that he’s a great artist through the character of Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) the “floozy” that Arthur brings and wants to marry, despite only knowing her for a month. To Joey, she is insufferable, but at the same time Allen could have easily have just written her as a stereotype, but he avoids this. No, the character is not particularly complex or “deep,” but she’s real and presents different angles that one wouldn’t normally anticipate in a film. Especially at the terrific ending, one sees that Allen doesn’t take the easy way with her character, placing her in a position one wouldn’t expect.
Even though it’s a movie that is a tightly wound analysis of these relationships there are some nicely-composed images and shots that stick in the mind, like a scene where Renata and Flyn are walking on the beach that represents an atypical way to shoot such a scene, but is perhaps more effective for it. Okay, while this review has strayed on the things this movie is not I should restate that this movie is frigging great art. It’s not something I would normally watch, but I can only think of a few films that so thoroughly, and with depth, cogitate on things like love, psychology and relationships. Overall, it’s a film whose excellence, despite one’s likes or dislikes, cannot be denied. And while I didn’t particularly “like” the film myself, I was grateful that I watched it for it reminded me how movies can still engage the mind through unexpected means.