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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 08, 1991


Henry Jaglom
Nelly Alard;
Lisa Richards;
Frances Bergen;
Mary Crosby;
Gwen Welles
Not rated

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"Eating" gathers a smorgasbord of the West Coast's most annoying women to bellyache, jaw and gnash their teeth over their various edible complexes. Directed by the touchy-feely Henry Jaglom, this is film as purgative -- a hens' party from hell, gorged on its own self-importance and damned hard to swallow.

Jaglom, a low-rent Woody Allen, caters to the worst instincts of Californians, actresses and neurotic women. He doesn't parody, sympathize with or define their affectations, he indulges them. Most women are overly concerned with their weight, but these gals are not merely watching their waistlines but gazing beyond their navels to the contents of their troubled tummies and their simple minds.

Nelly Alard plays a Frenchwoman, Martine, who claims to be doing a documentary on "Southern California Behavior" when she whips out her camera at a birthday party. Martine, a recovering anorexic, is actually making a film on the unique role food plays in women's lives. As one of them puts it, "Twenty-five years ago, the secret subject of women was sex. Today, it's food." It's the sort of statement that bad movies and headlines are made of.

Thirty-eight women of various ages have gathered to celebrate the birthdays of 30-year-old Kate (Mary Crosby), 40-year-old Helene (Lisa Richards) and 50-year-old Sadie (Marlena Giovi). They vary in size, shape, age and race, but they do all have several things in common: They change clothes a lot and they don't wear bras. After complimenting each other as effusively as a coven of lovestruck Victorian poets, they turn their attention to the three elaborate cakes made by the chef to the stars, Wolfgang Puck.

But when the cakes are cut and the slices offered, only one of the ladies has the courage to take the first piece. That is Helene's mother (Frances Bergen), the one with the fawning personality and the denture click. "I just can't believe nobody's eating cake," she says, beginning another of her "you kids today" speeches. Other action finds Sadie's young daughter slipping off to the toilet to stuff herself on cake before purging. When a macrobiotic bulimic discovers her there, the two trade confidences and attempt to comfort one another.

Meanwhile in other parts of the forest, Helene learns that her husband is having an affair, Sadie fears her 34-year-old boyfriend is more interested in her overweight daughter, and Martine films other women who say things like: "I'm still trying to find a man who can excite me as much as a baked potato" and "Food is the safest sex you can have." Then dinner is served and the guests are sorely tempted to sample the dishes. The griping, groaning and whining go on bubbling away like excess stomach acid as the gastrically challenged reassure one another ad nauseam. If Babette spread a feast for the soul and eyes, Jaglom is an acquired taste, like goat cheese.

"Eating" is not rated but is suitable for general audiences.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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