Marianna (Dame Julie Andrews), a Los Angeles based therapist, tells the story of one of her patients, middle-aged David Fowler (Burt Reynolds), a successful sculptor. He originally came to see her due to his sudden impotence in all aspects of his life, including in his art and in his sex life, the latter especially worrisome as he has always adored women in the holistic sense, they in general who adore him right back. David's sessions with Marianna have most often been comprised of him talking about the women in his life, past and present, those in his early life, who included his single mother, who had her fair share of suitors and lovers, and a plethora of prostitutes, one to whom he lost his virginity, and the profession which he has always treated with respect beyond the issues of many women resorting to the business as a last resort to survive. He has moved from one girlfriend or lover to another in his fear that he would miss something special in the women he has not yet met. ...Written by
Here is a picture that, for every conceivable reason, shouldn't work -- but on a purely emotional level, it does. Most viewers could be easily misled (and disappointed) by expecting a light romantic comedy or a wild sex farce. Instead, Blake Edwards and his co-screenwriters offer something entirely different, a picture far more complex, meaningful, and thought-provoking than what we might anticipate.
"The Man Who Loved Women" tells a sad, sad story about a middle-aged man (Burt Reynolds in one of his finest performances, as David Fowler) who drowns in isolation thanks to a rare ability: he's forced and driven, by instinct, to glimpse the sacredness and inner beauty of almost every woman he encounters. Yes, on some levels, his circumstances lead to a hedonistic paradise. But his feelings also prevent him from ever making a commitment, and isolate him from the joy of knowing one woman exclusively.
For that reason, a melancholic canopy hangs over the entire film and takes the front seat to humour. The story begins with David Fowler's death, and every event we witness onscreen is tinged by our knowledge that Fowler's obsession with women will eventually kill him. A slow, heavy, stringed theme song, Mancini's "Little Boys", plays softly throughout the film, and Fowler's words (in voice-over narration) constantly remind us of the deep, incurable loneliness that plagues him.
All of this might sound heavy-handed -- and it very well could be, if it weren't for the sexual fantasy and wild Edwards comedy that flesh out the story and provide relief. The melancholia and comedy work together, and Edwards achieves a delicate balance of mood --a bittersweet aura.
I've heard one criticism (see Ebert's review) that many of the story's psychological elements are impossible. Though a few scenes might suffer from exaggeration (hundreds and HUNDREDS of women attend David's funeral), one could easily dismiss the story -- as I did, at first --because so many male viewers *lack* Fowler's ability to care for women unconditionally; we want to believe that it's impossible for a contemporary Don Juan to exist. But that simply isn't tenable. My own theory about the film -- (and it's just a theory) -- is that Edwards may have pulled inspiration for Fowler from the late John Derek, another man worshipped and adored by women, who interacted with Edwards during the filming of "10" (1979).
Edwards and his co-writers lend a gentle touch to the film by crafting Fowler's character against-the-grain; while we might expect a narcissistic hedonist, he's just the opposite -- a warm, gentle, soul with only the sincerest motives. It's easy to understand why women are attracted to Fowler, from his first appearance onscreen. And, oddly -- male viewers may never begrudge Fowler his affairs, only applaud -- because his narration and his gentle spirit confirm the fact that he really does worship and adore everything about the girls who walk in and out of his life. "I keep thinking," he says sadly, "about all the women I'm never gonna know..."
In one of the film's most revealing and effective moments, Edwards allows us to glimpse a woman, at the funeral, who is the complete opposite of a "10" -- fat, homely, depressed -- undesirable. We have the distinct impression that her external appearance didn't matter to Fowler -- that he only looked into her heart and perceived her beauty. It lends credibility to psychologist Marianna's (Julie Andrews) observation: that David did, indeed, love all of the girls, equally and unconditionally.
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