STARTING OVER -- AMC Academy 6, AMC Skyline 6, Aspen Hill, Jenifer, K-B Silver, Landover Mall, Laurel Twin, Springfield Mall and Towncenter 3. "10" -- AMC Academy 6, AMC Skyline 6, Avalon, K-B Cerberus, Manassas Mall, Pike, Springfield Mall, Wheaton Plaza.
Most stories about the downtrodden are basically alike, since people who are hungry tend to be after the same thing. (Food.) And in theory, well-heeled folks should have more advanced problems to say nothing of being prettier to watch, with their stylish clothes and fancy apartments.
But a premise currently popular in the movies, that it's tough to be rich, famous and creative, with lifelong devotion as well as easy sex always available, is a hard one to put over, however sincerely it may reflect the filmmakers' idea of the human condition.
In two current attempts, "10" and "Starting Over," the plot is set in motion by this dissatisfaction on the part of, coincidentally, two successful son-writers. In "10", it is a 42-year-old man who has, on a scale of one to ten, ten of everything, but who feels cheated because he doesn't also have eternal youth. In "Starting Over," it a young woman who is beginning her career at the top, but who feels she needs "space." Both use their complaints to desert their loving and desirable mates, whom they then want back after finding life even more disappointing with others.
Presumably, one could dignify these situations by calling the man's problem "male menopause" and the woman's "oppression," but after seeing each of them wallow in self-pity while being casually cruel to their mates, you suspect a less pretentious diagnosis. They're spoiled. By extension, these examples seem to say -- the man's quite unintentionally, but the woman's with deliberate satire -- that any such claims are suspect.
Each film tries to mitigate the outrageousness of that basic premise with comedy. In "Starting Over," it works, and in "10," it doesn't. But this is because "10" sympathizes with the wallower, while "Starting Over" takes the viewpoint of the victim-mate.
You notice that this means that in each case, the character with whom one is intended to sympathize is the man. This is somewhat surprising in "10," written and produced by Blake Edwards, because it stars his wife, Julie Andrews, but gives her the illogical role of being a polished, independent, sexy, acclaimed opera star, who nevertheless is hopelessly attached to a runty little pratfall-prone character played by Dudley Moore.He leaves her, to chase a fantasy virgin he has glimpsed -- an unknown beauty in her wedding dress. The production notes explain that this was a fantasy of Edwards'. Andrews understandably has many scenes in which she shakes her head and says she can't understand why she is acting the way she is.
But Moore hasn't a single scene in which he relfects on life's bounties or wonders why they have been showered on him. He lives in California splendor, supported by a job that requires only an occasional spate of piano-tinkling, when he feels like it, for which he receives incredible adulation.How many songwriters would you recognize on the street? This one is given the full celebrity treatment everywhere, and when he bestirs himself to pluck from a surfboard a man who might otherwise have drowned (and might not), the event is covered on international television news broadcasts. On no evidence available to the filmgoer, his friends pronounce him "a genius."
In the course of begrudging the fact that, after a number of rich years, he has arrived at middle-age, he goes off in pursuit of his prefume-advertisement dream. On that scale of one to ten, this girl, played by a conventionally well-molded Bo Derek, he calls "an eleven." But when he gets her, he remains unsatisfied. Having built his dream solely on her body, he now feels cheated because she treats him as a body, not supplying the trappings of romance he also expects.
The female equivalent in "Starting Over" is Candice Bergen, rich, beautiful, talented (we are told -- the evidence of that, when she sings her songs, is hilarious) and beloved by her husband as well as, she points out to him, by his boss. Why she needs to free herself from this accommodating man to be a songwriter is not clear, or why it nearly kills him, but the minute he begins a new life with someone else, she reels him back in.
Moore could not carry his film because one feels like giving him a good swift kick -- or would, if he were not so tediously occupied in misstepping into swimming pools and falling off mountainsides. But one is invited to dislike Bergen and hope for her comeuppance.
The hero in that picture is Burt Reynolds, enormously appealing because he plays Mr. Normal, whose goal is not eternal youth or an irresponsible freedom, but to have an interesting job and a kind companion. It's even a little sad that the happiness he finds is with Jill Clayburgh as a woman who, though less glamorous and less demading than his ex-wife, apparently still carries the scars from her "Unmarried Woman" role and is therefore also hysterically self-preoccupied, in this case over "not being hurt."
The juxtaposition of his modest quest for conventional happiness with a world of exaggerated feeling and extravagant demands is done with deft satire. When he passes out in Bloomingdale's, his brother asks the assembled affluent shoppers if anyone has a valium -- and every one of them goes for a pocket or a purse.
The women he meets are all expert at demonstrating, with wild moanings, how sexy they find him, or perhaps it is how sexually alive they are. When his wife pants passionately because he simply puts his hand on her shoulder as a preliminary move, he removes the hand and looks at it quizzically. When the other woman sinks into ectasy at the very beginning of their first sexual encounter, he tries to stop her by protesting, "Wait, I'm not that good."
Another time, he pleads with her, if she possibly can, to "not act crazy." And crazy is what this whole miserable world of haves (as opposed to have-nots) is. The ones who are not spreading out their own feelings, like eager rug merchants who turn abruptly abusive when they are rejected, are pronouncing modern platitudes (if one person said "It's all rig4t for you to feel angry," a dozen did) as if they were revelations. Nowhere is anyone concerned with the business of life -- with establishing the comforts of home and job so that one can get on with living.
The two exceptions are that one ordinary man in "Starting Over," who will not stand for being victimized by the most blatant of the spoilers, and that otherwise normal woman, in "10", who inexplicably will. A sensible hero trying to make sense out of a foolish world is funny; but a foolish one allowed to play out his foolishness, is not.