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Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? has gem status in my book, a quirky, happy,
upbeat, talky, fun, intelligent, artistic, edifying, and visually
beautiful New York romantic comedy, with interesting and unusual
It screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 1983 and has since fallen into obscurity, perhaps suffering from mis-marketing (the poster for the film makes it look like it's a bondage movie!).
This beautiful film is about a relationship between two mismatched misfits. It's charming in that neither of the leads are stereotypical romcom characters, Eli (Michael Emil director Henry Jaglom's brother) even has a comb over! Here's one film where a lack of physical beauty refreshingly doesn't equate to stupidity or subordination. Zee (Karen Black) is introduced in Central Park, where she appears from behind the sculpture of Alice in Wonderland (the camera pauses briefly on each of Alice and the Mad Hatter), an artwork which may foreshadow the unusual goings on in the film.
Zee is a kooky and extremely emotional woman, who suffers from paranoia and relationship withdrawal symptoms. She describes Emil, almost a polar opposite, as follows, "Well, you seem to have a lot of energy and it gets stuck in your forehead it's like thinking instead of flowing". I also like about Eli's character that he's got such a rich back history in terms of relationships, and things he's tried in life, and given up. The film is appropriately nostalgic regarding this personal tapestry.
I think Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? is reminiscent in many ways of Woody Allen films of the same era, although I think Jaglom's movie doesn't navel-gaze. Eli draws on the Talmud, but isn't down in the dumps about being Jewish, or hung-up about peoples' attitudes towards Jewishness. In between moments of light relief the movie is genuinely natural at some points, almost like Varda, with sweet moments where the characters talk about their lives.
Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade makes a welcome appearance at a night-time concert in the park, which absolutely felt like a real event, probably because on the budgetary level here, it was! It had the feel of a real life relationship memory. The title of the music refers to Scheherazade, from the Arabian Nights, who constructs an epic narrative where stories spring out of one another in an attempt to divert her would-be executioner. I think that meshes with the movie's implied view of life as being composed of a protean series of encounters and situations.
There's a lot of ways in which this movie is very different from the normal romantic movie, it really acknowledges many things that Hollywood has always denied, that men have emotional needs on the same scale as women and are actually the weaker sex in empirical terms (more likely to suffer from mental illness, more likely to suffer physical injury, shorter lifespan etc Zee refers to this directly when reading a magazine article in bed), also that your life can alter abruptly, like a set change at a play, where your plans go out of the window and even any sense of fate, it even lets a woman have an uninterrupted monologue where she talks about herself, where she's not an object, or in feminist terms "the other". Zee gets to sing about her love for Sara Lee puddings at one point, just not on the male agenda at all. Jaglom was all for this sort of thing and has gone on record to say, "Hollywood so neglects women's real stories and real lives and indulges in male fantasies about women that have little to do with the reality of women's lives"
And because I love this film so much I recorded a monologue from Zee, shot in a lovely setting in the park by the water, whilst Zee and Eli are sat down: "Life is the most amazing mysterious thing, you think you know what's going to happen to you, where you're going to be in one year five years. Then suddenly you look round and it's a new life, do you know what I mean?... I think it's the water on the pond the water on the pond, because the water on the pond I can remember from other times. It's like a lot of rooms you know with doors. Your life is compartmentalised into these rooms and you go through these doors into the new room, and you don't know you went through the door, and you didn't notice, you don't notice that all the windows are different, and all the chairs are different, and all the rugs are different, and all the people are different, it's a new setting, do you follow me? But then all of a sudden one day, one day, in the middle of one moment, you look around and you say where am I, what happened, where am I, my God who are you? Eli, who are you? Where'd they go, ooh what happened there, I thought, d'you know what I mean? It's a funny feeling, it's like waking up in the middle of a dream. I think I just woke up Eli."
If you want to see poetry in motion, STUDY the sequences of Michael Marogtta and his pigeon. An UNFORGETTABLE piece of filmography is about an hour into the film--it lasts under a minute...not a word is spoken...only the music which gives the film its name is heard while Margotta, Frances Fisher and a trained New York City pigeon struggle, dance and eventually part under magic hour light; in front of The Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue. Breath-taking.
Can she Bake a cherry pie is a pointless film that perhaps was intended
to be heartwarming--the coming together of an overanalytical
rationalist and a confused, corny, Sixties-style lovable-airhead
character, played by Karen Black. They meet in a café and start seeing
each other on the day she was left by her husband, though we never
learn why hubby left and it's not obvious in her character. Because we
have seen lots of lovable-airhead films, the implication is that
suit-and-tie husband couldn't handle her emotionality and whimsicality,
yet these are not all that marked. Black's character actually seems a
normal enough person (and has a fine singing voice), so we don't
necessarily see why she is interesting--that is, how she is going to
have to learn to grow, or how this new, badly matched partner will fit
her needs. Her whole new relationship is uncomfortably suspect through
the movie because it may be an impulsive rebound. The film aims to be
character driven but instead is event driven; so and so happens, then
the next thing in a one note plod.
The male character was dull--in fact nobody changes. One scene is poignant,where he plays back some home movies while someone's rendering of the ever-superb song "The way you look tonight" plays on top. Yet this scene does not add depth to our lead's characterization, because he is too neurotic to even imagine changing. Neuroses are, by definition, minor worries given excess emphasis, and are not deep, complex or amusing to be around. Halfway through, we know he's going to continue being his one note self.
Production values are poor with smudgy colors.
Some people have compared this film to the films of Woody Allen. No wonder I REALLY disliked this film! This film was a meandering directionless 90 minutes of non-event. At times I felt like I was watching someones home movies, then I was watching a film with no script, story line or direction... Like most of the scenes were ad- libbed... And not very cleverly either. If John Waters ever made a "rom-com", this was it, only without the entertainment value. At times you hear the traffic noise louder then the dialogue. This film is like being chained to two of the most annoying, unappealing people in NYC on a really, really long date, and you can't run away. 40 minutes into this film, I was totally ready to shut down the DVD player and Frisbee this DVD right off my balcony, but I stuck it out, hoping I would find some redeeming feature about this film. No such luck. Being compared to W. Allen might be a good comparison... I don't like anything he's done cinematically, either. I realize I'm in the minority there, probably. I loved his late 60's/early 70's stand up... That's it. Perhaps I'm "unenlightened", but I'm amazed this film got above 3 stars.
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