Burt Reynolds is an attractive middle-aged man who suffers a crisis of confidence when ditched by his ambitious singer wife (Candice Bergen), until he begins to forge a new new relationship with an equally insecure teacher (Jill Clayburgh). But when the wife attempts a reconciliation - seduction followed by a truly excruciating song she has composed for him - he realizes where his loyalty lies.Written by
"Starting Over" works very well because it's a film made for and by adults. And it's got some very funny moments.
Yes, it's got all the trappings of a typical "ROMCOM" but back in 1979, the ROMCOM formula had not developed into the hackneyed, tiresome concept that it became. By the late 90's, the style that "Starting Over" began seems to have expired (it arguably reached it's zenith circa 1994 with "Sleeping in Seattle". Whether one liked that movie or not, all the trappings of the stylized ROMCOM formula were firmly and grossly used in that one.) But I digress.
"Starting Over" works so well because of Pakula's typical very low keyed direction which allows James L. Brooks' screenplay to shine. But this film would be nothing without the cast. Clayburgh is fine but of the three leads, she's the least appealing. Don't get me wrong. She's an engaging presence in the film and it's quite understandable why Reynolds is attracted to her (except for a shower scene in which, to me, she over reacts). The hands down winners in this film are Reynolds and especially Bergen. Bergen tapped into a completely unexpected flair for comedy as a royally flaky song writing ex-wife of Reynolds. She's a gas especially in an hysterical scene when she begins singing a disco ditty ("Better Than Ever") in a hotel room while trying to reconcile with Reynolds.
Reynolds is a complete revelation. Gone is his trademark mustache and cockiness and it works to marvelous effect. He's mature, low key and completely likable. It would've been so easy for Reynolds to play down the part to the point where he appears to be sleepwalking (ala William Hurt in "The Accidental Tourist"). But here, though he's depressed, he's also alive. He's just a guy going through something that he wishes he didn't have to. He loves/likes his ex-wife and can't understand why he's the odd man out.
From a plot and structural standpoint, "Starting Over" isn't much. It's setup and resolution are standard and completely unremarkable. Aside from the wonderful cast and good writing, the film is photographed beautifully by Sven Nyquist. This Swede (who was Ingmar Bergman's chief Director of Photography) knows how to film chilly northern environments and he gives Boston in winter an appealing glow.
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