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  Chilly Scenes of Winter Out In The Cold
Year: 1979
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Stars: John Heard, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Riegert, Kenneth McMillan, Gloria Grahame, Nora Heflin, Jerry Hardin, Tarah Nutter, Mark Metcalf, Allen Joseph, Frances Bay, Griffin Dunne, Alex Johnson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charles (John Heard) leaves work about five as he usually does, and after buying a candy bar as he usually does, makes his way to his car thinking about Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) as he usually does. When he's back at the vehicle, he imagines she is in the back seat waiting for him, ready to clean the rain off his glasses and chat, but then he wakes from his daydream and acknowledges that she is not there. And she has not been with him since a year ago when they had a brief affair after she left her husband; they met by chance as though they worked in the same office block, their paths did not cross until the fateful day he had to fill in for an ill colleague...

If there's one romantic-drama-comedy that commands a cult following, it is Chilly Scenes of Winter, but it also courts controversy as there are in fact two films based on Ann Beattie's novel of that name. The first was released as Head Over Heels, and was the studio version, the second was this, which had a new ending added after the previous version flopped, but it was so opposite to what the original one was that it changed the whole tone of the film, and pretty much failed to endorse Charles' obsession with Laura, suggesting that he was better off getting her out of his system, although there's always the chance they will get together in the future when she has her head sorted out.

It's a curious plot that would be unlikely to make it as a major studio picture today, although you can envisage the indie scene in America embracing it, and who knows, it might have inspired some of the generation of filmmakers who came later in that genre. Perhaps it's not so much the plot that's curious - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has the chance to win her back - than adapter-director Joan Micklin Silver's handling of it as from one minute to the next you're aware that these two main characters can be sympathetic, but they do have the capacity to make you cringe and wince as well. Not so much Laura, though you do question her motives, but more Charles, who these days would be one degree away from being a stalker.

And at times, that degree is missing as he refuses to accept that for Laura he was only a fling at a time when she was confused about what she wanted from her marriage and when we see her nice but dull husband, we understand that she might have been expecting more from her supposed wedded bliss. Though is Charles really what she needs? The impression is that while he might deserve her, she doesn't really deserve him, and the telling answer she gives when he asks her why she should settle for someone who doesn't love her enough when she could have someone who loves her too much is that she feels like a fraud otherwise. Laura's self-esteem is as much as problem as Charles placing her on a pedestal, and she does not feel she is worthy of such adoration.

And yet, it's simple to see why she is so easy to fall for: she's pretty, she's intelligent, she's funny, and most of all she doesn't feel as if she would be out of Charles's league, which is probably why he cannot get her out of his mind. Sadly, this makes him something of a jerk, callously rejecting his secretary Betty (Nora Heflin) when she would be ideal for him, spending his evenings parked outside Laura's house gazing at the windows for want of a glimpse of her, and in one excruciating sequence, inviting himself into her home pretending to be interested in buying one of her husband's houses, then admitting his love for her to him. Even more problematic, Silver hints that he may have a violent side that he is keeping in check, which may offer him depth, but skates too close to psycho thriller territory. Yet mostly you take away the rich characters, from Charles's fragile mother (Gloria Grahame) to his best friend Sam (Peter Riegert), a no-hoper with a nice line in humour that may be his saving grace. And that absorbing, unsettling love story at its core. Music by Ken Lauber.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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