THE THING THAT kept sticking in my mind was the car. She said that she could no longer affort to keep it. She lives in the suburbs. Northern Virginia somewhere, and she has to rely on neighbors to drive her children around. She called me and mentioned this and then she sat down and wrote me an outline of sorts of what its like to be a divorced woman with children. I thought of her after seeing the film, "An Unmarried Woman." Someone is lying.

The film is wonderful. It's about a woman, Jill Clayburgh, whose husband tells her one day after lunch that he has fallen in love with another woman and wants out. His wife does the only appropriate thing. She gives him a sick smile, throws up her lunch, and embarks on a new life with her 15 year-old daughter.

The subject of the film is separation or divorce or loneliness or whatever you want to call it. It is supposed to be what happens to a woman when her husband leaves her. It's a mature theme, handled rather well, actually, and a far cry indeed from the Hollywood pictures of old where the man stalked out saying, "You can reach me at my club" - films that left me wondering what you did if all you had was a gin rummy group.

On with the plot. Clayburgh is devastated. She is furious and hurt and mad and lonely and confused - lots of confusion. She is unsure of when to date and how to date and unsure, really, of what you do when you do date. She sees a shrink, has a one-night stand with a guy who is such a stereotype that if men knew how to organize they would boycott the film, and finds, inter alia, that casual sex is just that - casual. It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

Anyway, in short order she meets the wildly handsome Alan Bates, a painter of Jewish extraction with a weakness for vivid colors and, apparently, shiksas. Here is where I started to hold my breath.Here, I though, is where the movies are going to go wrong, revert to your run-of-the-mill love story. She will love Bates and she will be, because of Bates, once again a fullfilled woman. You sort of get the sense that everyone was thinking this - the producer and the writer and the director and, of course, everyone in the audience. It doesn't happen. We are - hooray - all liberated. We have all been doing our reading.

This was good. This was something to applaud and so you would be forgiven if you left the theater thinking that this was, as we used to say in college, real life. It was on this basis that the film was praised and it offers those little shticks of realism that convinces you that this is about truth. I mean, people actually curse and say bleep blap and make love (up to a point) and even, for cyring out loud, throw up in the street. This is the way movies convince you that they are telling the truth but this movie is not.It is not that it is lying. It is simply that it is not telling you something very important.

I don't mean by that that Jill Clayburgh is not your overage scorned woman. Of course she's not. She's a movie star and she looks like one and that meet, in due course, an Alan Bates and that he means that is is not surprising that she would would fall in love with her. After all, in her last picture Jill Clayburgh got Burt Reynolds. She has certain standards to uphold.

This is not the point at all. The point has to do with ho win her transition from married lady eo single woman nothing changed for her except her bedtime partner. Oh, there was angst all right, her and the furniture from Bloomies remained apartment with a view of the world remained and all the appropriate emotions, but the beautiful hers, and no one seized her credit card and she still took cabs around Manhattan Island, which is something only the very rich and reporters on expense accounts can do.

What does not happen is what happened to that lady who called from Virginia: Clayburgh's standard of living did not take a beating. This is something that happens all the time. Women in real life can lose their former husband's pensions and after a while, sometimes alimony, and sometimes the child support and sometimes their self-esteeem. They find out that the job market is not waiting for them, that there is little they can do and what there is does not pay very well.

A movie is a movie and one should not be held accountable for something it did not intend to be. But this one reached, and it had the chance to battle the American canard that divorce is a woman's little game, a chance to live in luxury, peeling grapes and entertaining delivery boys and that after the emotional trauma is over, everything return to normal. Often it does not. Often there are hard times ahead.

I thought of that the other night after seeing this film and I thought about how this lady told me on the phone that she is losing her car. That has stuck in my mind - no car in the suburbs. In the movies, Jilly Clayburgh takes taxis.

In real life, this lady is walking.