CHAPTER TWO -- Aspen Hill, New Carrollton, Roth's Seven Locks, Springfield Mall, Tenley Circle and Tysons Twin.
Neil Simon's "Chapter Two," a play and now a film, was based, we are told, on his own second marriage to Marsha Mason, who plays the leading lady. It seems to have worked out well for all four of them -- Simon, Mason, the theater, the cinema.
One wishes them all well. But with a shade more insight, and perhaps less fidelity to the facts of his marriage and more to the artistic pursuit of wider truth, "Chapter Two" could have been a serious commentary on a widespread contemporary phenomonon, in addition to being the pleasantly bittersweet comedy that it is.
The story is about a widower, played with gentle pathos by James Caan, who quickly remarries in the hope of jarring himself out of a painful bereavement. The bride is attempting an equally instant recovery from her divorce. There is a subplot involving his brother and her best friend, two jauntily crude characters who are hoping an affair will distract them from their respective marital problems.
But the point that could have been made about them all has to do with the concept of seeking instant solutions to complicated problems, and, more specifically, of using sex for this purpose.
Oddly, it's the minor characters who briefly and poignantly illustrate this, not the supposedly sensitive leads. Joseph Bologna and Valerie Harper, as the would-be-illicit lovers, have a moment, in the middle of a scene of low-comedy mixups, in which they stop and face the fact that she envisions "the exicitement of being in love" as her cure-all, while he has decided that unemotional sex is his. As these two solutions don't mesh, they kiss goodbye and go their opposite ways.
The widower and the divorcee have been fashioned with more romance and less sensible realism. After their whirlwind courtship, which collapses during the wedding trip when he realizes that he is still sick with longing for his dead wife, they move back into being two strangers, who eventually set about fashioning a pact to be solacing and loving to each other.
A few precautions about taking things easy, in which the off-stage voices of psychiatrist can be clearly heard, and all is fine again in the great romantic, love-at-first-sight tradition of popular culture
The idea that tragedy must be dealt with, in its own good time, has been thrown away for a quickie happy ending.