The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) Poster

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Loneliness when you're with somebody, loneliness when you're apart
moonspinner5510 February 2001
A friend of mine once commented that she never liked the TV series "Courtship Of Eddie's Father" because "it was such a lonely little show." I understand what she meant. It wasn't that it was underpopulated, it just exuded an atmosphere of melancholia. "The Sterile Cuckoo" is much the same way. Even though Mary Ann "Pookie" Adams has found her guy, she can't escape the loneliness within. She's desperate, clinging, and beautiful in her need--but a pain to her college boyfriend who quickly outgrows her. There are monologues by Liza Minnelli in this film that are haunting (the story of her father spraying perfume on his bed, or the one with Pookie making a recording for her father out of a love letter she swiped). Most importantly, Minnelli makes Pookie easily identifiable to us. Sure, we get angry at her, frustrated with her childish games, but she never alienates the audience (or director Alan J. Pakula, who stays right with her on the bus as the film fades out). I don't think I've ever seen a portrait of loneliness and need conveyed as well as it is done here. Liza probably deserved an Oscar for this quiet tour-de-force--hers is an amazing achievement that has not been equaled. ***1/2 from ****
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Pain can be beautiful
ivan-2222 August 2000
I saw it in 1992 (well past puppy love age) and wrote in my diary:

A heavenly movie! What a visual and aural delight! The plot didn't matter much (love of shy college boy and girl). But then, no good movie puts plot above everything else. Good movies have great atmospheres. They are pleasing to the eye, as well as the ear. This one was blissfully free from cliches, melodrama, formulas, phony excitement. It was pure warmth, charm, prettiness, spontaneity. There were almost no close-ups. The scenery was breathtaking, the pacing calm and gentle. There were whispers! Whispering is so charming, so intimate. Liza Minelli was never better. This film gave me a great boost, making me feel connected with fellow humans.
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Not a comedy, but the reason Liza is where she is!
zacdawac11 December 2004
For years, I put off watching this film, and when I finally did turn it on, the title and everything I'd read about it led me to think that I was going to be seeing a classic late sixties type comedy on the general level of THE TIGER MAKES OUT, THE HEARTBREAK KID and GOODBYE COLUMBUS. Instead, I was treated to a moving, somber, slow paced but intriguing story of two very ordinary and very real people. There are few genuine laughs, but even fewer false notes in this obscure little gem that probably would have been totally forgotten, if not for Liza Minelli.

In recent years, Liza's talents seem to have gotten all but lost in all the hype and scandal around her. People remember that she's her mother's daughter, they remember that she was in rehab, they remember her reputation for marrying gay men and beating them up, and they remember cartoon like portrayals of her in places like the recent Broadway show, THE BOY FROM OZ. What they don't remember is that, besides being a great singer, Liza is truly a sensational actress.

Film work is far more eternal than any other kind, in entertainment, especially these days when everything is on video, and there are hundreds of premium movie stations available. But while Judy Garland might have done more movies before she was twenty than her daughter did, in her entire life up to this point, I'm not sure if Judy ever gave a performance that was as real, as sensitive and as genuine as Liza's performance here.

If you ever think that Liza's success was due to her mother, remember that Judy had two other children who tried, but didn't quite succeed in the forever fickle entertainment industry. Then watch this film, that a relatively inexperienced Liza did when she was in her early twenties, and ask yourself if she deserves her success.
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RunPepe17 January 2003
This is one of the few films I've seen in which every shot represents the theme and overall feeling of the film. No matter whether Minnelli's Pookie and Burton's Jerry are together as a couple, in a crowd, or completely alone, a sense of loneliness pervades the situation. To achieve this Pakula uses several long shots of the characters, or, during the party scene, he has Pookie and Jerry on separate levels of the staircase, staring up or down at each other from a distance. From the very first shot we see this, with Pookie and her father walking to a bench and then sitting there waiting, in an extremely long take that spans the entire opening credits. In representing the awkwardness of a first sexual experience, another extremely long take is used, in which Jerry disrobes Pookie, take off each piece of clothing one by one, hanging them up in the closet or folding them properly, then doing the same for himself, and within this the loneliness is established in Pookie's great enthusiasm to "get in the sack" and Jerry's calculated attempts at making the experience romantic, which are completely unromantic. Even McIntire's small role as Charlie plays an important part in the representation of the loneliness, as he assumes that Jerry is a virgin, like he is, thinking he confide this is in Jerry because they have it in common, which they don't. Minnelli's acting in this excellent, probably on the same par as her role in Bob Fosse's "Cabaret." This is also one of the few films I have actually not just felt sad about, but actually did cry at. I believe this is a very well-made film, and it deserves a higher rating than it has on here. The subjects it deals with are not trivial in the least, they are an important part of life, and the ending is perfect in proving this. It is very realistic in the psychological portrayal of its characters, which is a very difficult thing to pull off. I have not read the book, but I am sure the characters are established just as well in this film adaptation. Although it is a sad film to watch, Pakula hooks us right away with Pookie's outrageous personality, and although, like Jerry, we feel she is annoying person, even if she is friendly, we cannot stop listening to her and watching her, and when she is not in a scene we feel something is lacking. So, rather quickly, we begin to enjoy her character and what it brings to the film, just as Jerry begins to enjoy her company and she helps him learn to enjoy his life and be more outgoing, even though, in the end, this works against Pookie. I feel this film has been highly overlooked, and I definitely recommend it, even with the sad ending it brings. By the end of the film I had fallen in love with Pookie, and this is what makes it such a strong film.
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One of my favorite films of all time.
Natalie-3127 December 2000
I saw The Sterile Cuckoo by accident in 1970. I went to the movie theater to see True Grit because John Wayne had been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. The double feature that day included The Sterile Cuckoo and it changed the way I would view movies from that day on. I loved every second of this achingly beautiful story about first love for a gangly, awkward, pushy, scared girl and a shy young man. Liza Minnelli is so incredible in this role as she conveys the desperation of a woman who has probably never been loved and can't understand that it scares people away if you hold too tight and reveal too much. She has no game to play and it costs her. She is the whole movie as all the emotions of the part are captured in her beautiful, expressive eyes. Her monologue in the phone booth near the end of the film should be required viewing for anyone interested in persuing an acting career. Few before her or since have pulled off such a challenging feat with such seamless realism. She was fantastic in Cabaret because it showcased the full range of her talents but this is her best work as an actress.
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A lovely film, deserving to be seen by a new generation.
middleburg27 November 2003
I saw this movie so many years ago when it was first released with a great deal of fanfare featuring Liza Minnelli's virtuosic portrayal of a heartbreakingly lonely, vulnerable and impossible young coed. Seeing it again, some 30 years later, it continues to resonate with its beautifully drawn characters and their painfully real relationships. Love, desire, passion, confusion, post-adolescent yearnings- -these strong emotions and feelings are present in every scene of this film which has not aged one single bit in those 30 years. This movie is a gem.
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sweet melancholy....
MarieGabrielle7 October 2008
This film, along with the performances of the two principals, Minnelli and Burton, as well as the soundtrack, evoke a time in everyone's past, at some time or other.

As two drifting college students, they have a chance meeting, become interested in each other, then gradually grow apart. The sets are evocative of New England and upstate New York, beautiful in autumn, beautiful and sad. Reminding us perhaps of past relationships, longing, and wishes that were never fulfilled.

The soundtrack is sentimental, but not overly so, I am not a major fan of Minnelli, but in this film her performance was understated and believable. The film leaves us with a sense of loss and longing, recalling times we were younger, relationships of the past. 8/10.
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Terrific, one of Liza's best
Marie-621 November 2001
Liza Minnelli...That name conjures up so many images: Her mother, Judy, elegance, beauty, humor, and sometimes pain. Well, she sheds all of them except the last 2. In this role as the odd Pookie Adams, a girl who is afraid of "weirdos" but who in a sense really is, Liza Minnelli has to pull together a wonderful (Academy Award Nominating) part that will tug at your heart and look at the world through HER eyes. Pookie meets Jerry Payne (Wendell Burton) and goes through a couple of sly tricks to make sure that he never forgets her. Jerry falls in love with this strange but lovable girl. That is until her fear of him leaving makes her over-protective and a little pushy. It begins to drive him away. But what movie on teenage lovers is really convincing? Well, these two sure are convincing. Sometimes you just want to strangle Pookie and other times you just want to jump into the screen and hold her close and say "It's gonna be all right". I rated this a 7 because there was something missing and I felt it. But otherwise, Liza Minnelli fans, this is way worth it!
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A Neglected Gem of the Late Sixties
JamesHitchcock14 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"The Sterile Cuckoo" is one of those bizarre titles which appears to have nothing to do with the film to which it is attached; in the novel of the same name by John Nichols, which I have never read, the title is apparently explained, but the explanation was omitted from the film. In the UK the film was originally released as "Pookie", after one of the main characters, but today it is normally shown on television under its American title. (Perhaps someone pointed out that, in Malay, the word "puki"- same pronunciation- means something obscene. My Malaysian-born wife was baffled why a film with that title should have been released in Britain).

The film tells the story of Mary Ann Adams and Jerry Payne, two teenagers who meet one another while waiting for a bus. Mary Ann is generally known by the nickname "Pookie". (I hope she never travels to Malaysia). They discover that they are both on the way to university and that their colleges are near each other. They begin dating, and slowly fall in love, but their relationship is a difficult one because of their very different personalities. Jerry is a shy, studious boy whose main interest in entomology. Pookie is, on the surface, more outgoing- during their initial encounter it is she who makes most of the running- but she is also an oddball eccentric. Both are loners, but for different reasons, Jerry because of his shyness, Pookie because she regards virtually everyone who does not share her eccentricities as a "weirdo". (Or as she would spell it, "wierdo").

"The Sterile Cuckoo" is a coming-of-age film with certain similarities to "The Graduate" from two years earlier. Both films were made early in their careers by rising new directors; "The Graduate" was the second film to be directed by Mike Nichols, whereas "The Sterile Cuckoo" marked the directorial debut of Alan J. Pakula. (He had, however, already had considerable experience as a producer). It is very different in style to the sort of political and crime thrillers ("Klute", "All the President's Men", "Presumed Innocent", "The Pelican Brief") for which Pakula was later to become famous. It is told in a simple, lyrical style with plenty of long, lingering shots. There are relatively few close-ups; characters are often viewed from a distance. There is some striking photography of the North-Eastern scenery (most of the movie was filmed in upstate New York), although the views we see do not always correspond to the ostensible time of year- trees in full leaf at "Christmas", autumn colours in "spring", etc. I presume that the film was shot over a much shorter period of time than the full academic year during which the action is supposed to take place.

Liza Minnelli was hitherto best known to me for "Cabaret" and for her insistence that her name is spelt with a "zee". (I always used to wonder how else her name could be spelt, until I learned that in America, unlike Britain, the name Lisa is occasionally pronounced "Lyza" rather than "Leeza"). If one excludes those films in which she appears as herself, her filmography is a short one; apart from "Cabaret" and "Arthur" I don't think I had previously seen any of them. "The Sterile Cuckoo" is one of her earliest films and the first one in which she has a starring role. She received a "Best Actress" nomination, which in my view was well-deserved. The strange, fey teenager Pookie is, on the surface at least, very different from Minnelli's vampish Sally Bowles character from "Cabaret", yet both women have at the heart of their existence an emotional vulnerability which they try to hide from the outside world in different ways, Pookie by difficult, unconventional behaviour and Sally by an outward show of seductive glamour. Wendell Burton, an actor with a filmography even shorter than Minnelli's- most of his subsequent work seems to have been in television- is also very good as the quieter, more conventional Jerry.

Another striking feature is the film's theme song, the Sandpipers' "Come Saturday Morning", with its simple lyrics and haunting folksong-like melody. It fits perfectly with the mood of the film, and reminded me of some of the songs of Simon and Garfunkel (which were such a feature of "The Graduate"), especially "Scarborough Fair" which was of course based upon a real folk-song. (It received an Oscar nomination for "Best Song" but lost to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", which I was surprised to learn was specially composed for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"- I had always assumed the makers of that film had simply used a much older song).

This is not a well-known film, but in my view it deserves to be. It is a neglected gem of the late sixties, a gentle, elegiac and moving coming-of-age story and a reminder that not every college student of that period was an angry young radical. 8/10
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tragic from the opening credits
scott.leigeber21 May 2000
From the moment this movie begins, with the evocative Sandpiper's rendition of "Come Saturday Morning", the ache in my body becomes almost unbearable -- but this little gem is so beautifully realized that it is worth it. Minnelli, Burton, and Alan Pakula's direction are close to perfect. This is a very special movie, that transcends the period it was made to lament the underdog's painful journey through want and wish and heartbreaking compromise, all while the conventional world seems to go blithely on, unaware of the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune that befall those born not to have their places in the sun. A fine achievement for almost everyone involved in this film. It is also notewothy that Liza, a unique actress, has never quite found the cinematic career she deserves -- there have been some seering, indelible moments, notably CABARET and NEW YORK, NEW YORK, and the aforementioned, but the 1970's didn't seem the time for her. Incidentally, I have wondered for twenty five years what she might have done in a filmed biography of Clara Bow!
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A great movie...
JasparLamarCrabb4 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Liza Minnelli once had a promising film career. It started with THE STERILE CUKOO, a film that is virtually unknown today. Minnelli plays Pookie Adams, a strange, socially inept coed who ingratiates herself into the life of fellow college student Wendall Burton. Minnelli is exceptional...she's sad, funny and pathetic and director Alan J. Pakula creates a movie that's that way as well. It's a decidedly melancholy film. Burton is great as he patiently tries to deal with Minnelli's intrusiveness. But it's Minnelli, who's acting career peaked a few years later with CABARET, who carries the film. It's a remarkable performance, making it hard to believe that Hollywood did not know what to do with her talents. The great song "Come Saturday Morning" is played throughout.
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You got to get out of your shell sometimes......
GOWBTW6 September 2011
College can be lonely, or it can be fun. Fitting in is always a must even though you don't want to. In "The Sterile Cuckoo", it all points out to that. Taking place in Upstate New York, it makes a very great Fall setting there. Here you have Jerry(Wendell Burton), a shy college man who happens to meet Mary Ann "Pookie" Adams(Liza Minelli) who happens to be socially inept. She doesn't fit in with anyone around her, she calls them "Wierdos". She too is smart, but she only wants to be around Jerry, instead. They happen to have a good time where ever they go, even going to a graveyard where she really acts up. The hotel scene is really classic. The request she gave out was very unusual. "Peel the Tomato" seems to be a new one on me. The strip scene was short but nice to watch. No insecurity about that! But in life, we need to leave our comfort zone behind sometimes, because not meeting new people can create problems. But that's anybody's guess. This movie is a real gem, and I enjoyed it very much. 5 stars!
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A movie for the time and place
sullymangolf6 June 2008
This was another movie that I saw as a high school student in the Philippines back in 1970 while we were stationed at the Subic Bay Naval Base. We always went to the movies. There were 5 movie theaters on the base and each one was free to get in. We didn't have English speaking TV stations in the Philippines at the time I was there. I saw this movie 4 or 5 times. It was a time when we were getting ready to head off to college and many of the films we saw dealt with the California college scene. This one took place in the New England rural area in the small college town setting. The movie was enjoyable for the setting, the characters, and the music. Liza Minelli did a great job as the lonely, confused, student who didn't fit in with the crowd. This movie is in the same category as The Graduate, The Paper Chase, and Love Story. Of the four it is the most simplistic but provides another look at the love relationships between college students in that time period. All these movies made an impression on me at the time as I was young and just getting ready to begin my college years. The song "Come Saturday Morning" provided a good background balance to the movie as it played throughout the movie in various versions. It had a very similar feel to the way "Scarborough Fair" was used in The Graduate. As we lived with the heat and the jungle as my environment for 2 years; this film reminded me of the wonderful seasons of fall and winter that I remembered when I lived in New York and would go upstate to visit friends. One side track here..... As I think of the 4 movies mentioned, songs played a key element in the movies. For some reason The Paper Chase had no theme music or any songs that I recall. The movie was fantastic but I am a musician and with all the great songs of that era it would have, in my opinion, made the movie better. It was a great time to be young back in the late 60's and early 70's. These movies made the experience a little more enjoyable and I enjoy watching them when they are on the tube.
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Lovely Liza will break your heart in this tale of insecurity and a fight for self-discovery.
mark.waltz5 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"Go ahead, break my heart!" seems to be the theme for Liza Minnelli's Pookie Adams in this college age love story about a very insecure but likable young lady and her shy, nervous boyfriend (Wendell Burton) whom she goes after with fury the moment she meets him. "Come Saturday Morning" is one of the best movie themes ever, let alone of this "Hair" age drama, and sets up the mood perfectly for the gentle souls whose lives are explored. If Liza had not gone on to play Sally Bowles in "Cabaret", she would have been remembered forever in playing this part, a role filled with even more dimensions than the later role which won her the Oscar. Losing the Oscar for this to Maggie Smith's Jean Brodie, Minnelli is a modern age version of the characters Brodie was teaching in her British private school, so you can watch both films together and see many similar qualities. Burton, seemingly forced into dating the sometimes pesky Pookie, has the less showy role, but he underplays it with great humanity and is equally unforgettable. Excellent direction by Alan J. Pakula helps make the film flow smoothly. Minnelli's performance seems so modern in her energy that you almost expect her to whip out a cellphone and start texting to Burton every two minutes.
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A truly original, wonderful film!
elliottrainbow29 March 1999
This story of a strange girl falling in love with a boy who at first resists, then embraces her is a wonderful movie. Pookie Adams is unlike any character in any other movie I have seen. She is truly desperate for love and when she finds it she ruins it by holding on too tightly. This movie is heart- breaking because there is no way for the teenage lovers to find a happy ending. A sweet, touching look at first love that is not to be missed.
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Nothing Sterile About This Cuckoo-Kookie Pookie Shines ***1/2
edwagreen11 October 2008
Liza Minnelli received a well deserved Oscar nomination here as best actress as Pookie Adams. Emotionally detached and socially awkward, Minnelli etched a memorable performance as the young girl reduced to saying anything to garner attention in her long pursuit to be accepted and loved.

Co-star and future director, Wendell Burton, is just wonderful as the shy boyfriend who comes to love the way out Kookie.

This is truly a wonderful story of maturity gained through love. It would only take an outstanding performance by Maggie Smith in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" to beat out Minnelli as well as Jane Fonda's tragic Gloria in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Pookie's early scenes as a real lovable nut job are so realistic. Her acting depth is well realized here as she emotionally matures.

The ending is definitely a downer but so has been Pookie's very existence. She still has to find herself.
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A shatteringly effective look at first love
Capboy22 September 1999
Liza Minnelli and Wendell Burton--in letter-perfect performances--made indelible impressions on me when I first saw this in the early seventies (it was re-released to capitalize on Liza's success in "Cabaret"). I still think it is one of the most successful cinematic representations of the ups and downs of young romance.
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the sterile cuckoo
jeumenesk6 December 2006
This movie touches something in all of us that i think Lizzie minnelli brought to the service so well she deserved an Oscar nom in her first performance.Most of us at some point in our lives,often when young have clung to love,or been clung to-to tightly.The result often being the other person at some point feels as though they cant breath they feel suffocated.This creates awkward moments and much introspection as we question what does love truly mean does it mean I have to be with you and know where you are 24 hours a day.Does it mean i let go my friends because you don't seem to like them. I'm a male who gets sad every time I see this movie.All of us have felt loneliness and come across some people who are plagued by it.Lizzie Minnelli ,and Wendell Burton showed the dynamics of young love and all its bittersweet ironies.This movie reminds us of being young and breaking up with someone you at one point cared deeply for.
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A beautiful film
jesse-34622 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw The Sterile Cuckoo my first year in college when I was the same age as the characters. It hit home then but it took 40 years for me to realize the depth and beauty of this simple story of a lost and lonely college freshman girl who tries too hard and a straight-laced college freshman lad. From the opening, this story grabbed my heart and just would not let go. The sound track of Come Saturday Morning by the Sandpipers will echo in my soul for a long long time. The opening of the older, widowed father sending his little girl off to college, wanting just a touch of warmth from her and getting nothing. And then the bittersweet story of Pookie Adams finding her first love and Jerry who was dragged unwillingly into his own first love, discovering each other and the joy and pain, until finally they grow apart. The last scene of this lost and lonely little girl back on the bus with no place to go and no one to love her, her first love standing there with his hands in his pockets watching her go. My heart ripped in pieces. Yes, Pookie was just about as unlikeable as they come but her vulnerability makes you want to hold her close just like Jerry did. I have no idea why Liza Minelli did not win the Oscar in this her first movie. She certainly should have. Yes, the movie has some anachronisms that the young audience of today might find amusing, like dial telephones, but this is a one of a kind experience I would recommend to all.
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Liza Minneli was Outstanding
whpratt18 February 2008
Had never viewed this film and I am so glad that I never missed seeing it because Liza Minneli playing the role of Pookie (Mary Ann) Adams amazed me. The film starts off with a man and a girl sitting on a bench waiting for a bus to arrive and when it does a young man gets off to take a rest and his name is Jerry Payne, (Wendall Burton). Pookie moves over to his bench and starts getting herself involved with him and then they get on a bus together since the both of them are starting their freshman year in college, although they go to different schools in Upstate New York. Jerry Payne figures he will never see this girl again and settles into his college life, then one day, Pookie arrives at his college dorm in a beat up looking BUG car and from then on this film steam rolls ahead with all kinds of crazy and unbelievable things happening to the both of them. Don't miss this film, you will really enjoy seeing this very unusual film.
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The Two Leads Are Wonderful
SwollenThumb31 March 2018
A study of first love. Minnelli is magnificent as the needy but snobbish, homophobic and self-centred Pookie Adams. In a five-minute phone conversation she has to show rage, joy, sorrow, fear, honesty and desperation - all in one take. I loved the natural setting, even if some may think it too pretty and gives the film a glossy finish. The romance between Pookie and Jerry isn't really analysed, largely because we don't get to know Jerry. He remains passive. But I liked this unusual aspect. The movie's momentum comes from wondering what Pookie will get up to next! Delightful theme song "Come Saturday Morning"
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Sad love story
iheartkp27 July 2002
I saw this movie for the first time a couple years ago when I first went off to school. It was about characters my same age group, facing similar problems and it was very easy to relate to. Liza Minelli plays Pookie Adams, a not exactly "normal" girl who meets a boy on the bus who is more normal, but still a bit geeky. They become friends and eventually fall in love. However, as the school year progresses the boy decides he really is not satisfied to be with just Pookie, and needs his "space." Her outbursts and anti-everything personality make him into a social outcast. One feels sorry for Pookie when he tries to break up with her, but can also relate to the bad situation the boy is in. It's a very sad movie because it is so true to life.
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I became a Liza fan that saturday morning.
put2geder5 September 2002
Not the kind of movie a male teen {13} would go see, much less really enjoy. I think it was the second or b movie of that 1969 Saturday matinee. The theme has a special catchy quality about it, like Lizas character, I found it very enjoyable, with eccentric humor & sadness all working in a well balanced entertaining film.
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Movie brings back childhood memories
maryomal22 February 2005
This movie was filmed close to my hometown and even though I was only 5 years old when it was being filmed, I remember it vividly since it was a huge deal for a town of only 10,000 people in upstate NY. The girl who used to babysit me had gone to watch the some of the filming and had taken pictures of Liza Minelli and her little Volkswagon Beetle that was used in the film. Now as an adult who has moved to an entirely different part of the country from where I was raised, I love to catch this movie on a Saturday afternoon and just take note of the locations in the film, particularly that scene where Jerry and Pookie rent a cabin by a lake. The movie and its soundtrack always brings back a strong sense of nostalgia and that secure feeling one always has in one's childhood and the simplicity of life as a child.
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They Shot it Close to Home
acs_joel30 November 2006
I was in junior high when the film crew came to town. They actually shot in the next town down the road and a few other communities in the area. When I saw the film, I was too busy looking at the locations, matching them up with my knowledge of local geography. The VW in the film belonged to the older brother of a classmate. All the kids were buzzing about the romantic scene shot in the Vernon Center Cemetery. My classmate, Gene, used to mow the grass. Years later, well after the film was shot, I went drinking in the bar, The Golden Horseshoe, where some scenes were filmed. Someday I must rent the DVD to actually watch the film for something more than just the locations.
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