Twice in a Lifetime (1985)
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This thin Colin Welland script (British screenwriter of the overrated CHARIOTS OF FIRE) is enlivened considerably by Hackman's convincing portrayal of a blue-collar Everyman who's mortgaged his life for work and family to the exclusion of any dreams for himself. The decidedly unmelodramatic arc of his life change and its consequences is relatively rare in American films and is more interesting for it. Look for newcomer Amy Madigan lighting up the screen as Hackman's PO'd but devoted daughter. A wistful Pat Metheny score and Nick McLean's cinematography of unglamorous Seattle locations -- back before it became America's trendiest city -- enhance the authentic feel. Bud Yorkin, Norman Lear's former producing partner, directs to good low-key effect. Worth a look for Hackman/Burstyn/Margret fans.
I see some thought that Amy Madigan's "Sunny" character was too over-the-top, but I found her riveting and compelling. Others obviously did too, as I believe she was the most nominated actor/actress from this film.
I gave it 7 of 10 and wish all reviewers would notice the rating system here is from 1-10 not X out of 5 stars. That is a good rating from me. It takes a "Gone with the wind" to get a 10 from me so 7 is high.
I have seen all of the actors and actresses in movies that were more flattering to them but this movie was about imperfect people making mistakes and how they dealt with it. And, how their decisions affected those around them. I feel it was a well executed movie. It was rather bittersweet in that it didn't have the usual, glowing, happy ending where everything was made perfect.
This movie did a good job of showing what life can be like for a husband and wife team that isn't talking about their marriage. The husband shows signs of falling out of love but the devoted wife does not see it. She isn't giving something he needs. Whether it be fun in the bedroom or fun in life in general something is missing. She is blind to it and he isn't committed enough to address it. I use the word committed because that is what it takes to have strong, happy marriage.
Some competent counseling might have saved this marriage but this movie is not about counseling, it is about people slogging through life, trying to make do with what they have and it reveals that all is not rosy and wonderful for REAL people. Not everyone has a huge expensive house and brand new cars. Some of them are unemployed and worried about the future. The bored father figure meets a spirited fun loving woman and is attracted to that spirit suggesting to me that's what was missing from his life. After his abandoned wife comes out of her slump she goes out with friends and begins to develop some actual enthusiasm for life. How sad it took their breakup to help her wake up. (Gee I made a rhyme.)
Now if she had shown some of that enthusiasm BEFORE he met the very attractive Ann Margret, maybe he would have stayed with her "till death do us part".
I didn't feel the movie took a side in this breakup. I was left with the impression the movie merely portrayed it as it unfolded. Neither husband or wife came off as the true villain, they were just flawed people trying to make their way through life.
This is a good example of how differently people in the same family can react to the same situation. The wife, the daughters, the son, the friends on both sides have very opposing reactions to the impending breakup of a marriage that appears to have lasted about 30 years.
The movie is realistic, bittersweet and well acted.
I can recommend this movie with clear conscience.
Overall, this is a very good movie, well worth watching. Did I have any problems with it? Well, there was one part that I thought could have been better handled. It's when Hackman's wife confronts him about the affair she has just learned he's having. Instead of showing Hackman forced to come clean and explain himself, as well as showing his wife's reaction to the news, the movie suddenly cuts to a scene taking place much later. This could have been a very powerful and honest scene, so it's a mystery why it was never developed.
And then he goes out to the local tavern on his 50th birthday - ironically it is his wife who tells him to go on without her. There he meets Audrey Minelli (Anne Margret). She is a bartender, she is beautiful and vivacious, and amazingly, she doesn't have a husband or boyfriend. She and Harry click, begin to have an affair, and passion comes back into Harry's life.
Now yes, Harry DOES leave his wife for this new woman and move to a new town and a new job. But it takes somebody ratting out the situation to push Harry forward. I have real doubts that such a creature of habit as Harry would ever have moved on the situation if not pushed to make a "take her or leave her" decision.
After Harry leaves, his wife of 30 years goes through the bitterness expected of somebody who has faithfully given her best years to a man who has dumped her in her late middle age. Let me tell you Ellen Burstyn as Kate, the abandoned wife, is excellent. She goes through all of the stages of grieving her marriage, and that includes deciding - for awhile - that maybe the institution of marriage is just so much hooey. Her older daughter, the ironically named Sunny (Amy Madigan) is right there with her, using the opportunity to examine her own marriage, to note that she is 28 years old, married with kids, and doesn't even own her own home.
Into this "marriage doubters club" comes the not so welcome news of the youngest daughter (Ally Sheedy as Helen) deciding to marry her long time boyfriend . And that means dad will be coming back to town to give the bride away. A scene out of Spencer Tracy's "Father of the Bride" this is not going to be. How does this all work out? Watch and find out. I recommend this not because of a particularly unique script, but because of some really great acting that makes all of the little scenes special. It will definitely hold your attention.
Add to this Amy Madigan's grating, one-note, Oscar-nominated (!) performance and you have a movie you'll want to turn off halfway through. My recommendation? Do it. Turn it off. There must be an kitchen-gadget infomercial on TV or SOMETHING better to watch.
Here's the plot in a nutshell: workin' stiff Gene Hackman is a blue-collar warrior who spends his days (or whatever shift he's assigned) in a rough-and-tumble Seattle steel mill. (I didn't even know Seattle HAD steel mills, but whatever). In his off hours, he heads to the Shamrock tavern to hoist a few with his similarly blue-collar buddies, Brian Dennehy among them. The Shamrock is presided over by Micole Mercurio, who seems to shine in these Harley Mama roles (she even played one in "Mask.") As the movie begins, Micole's hired a new waitress, Ann-Margret.
It's Gene Hackman's fiftieth birthday, and his wife of thirty-plus years, Ellen Burstyn, has gathered two of their three children, daughters Amy Madigan (in a role so marinated in anger that it makes your teeth ache, plus she's got the worst haircut in the free world) and Ally Sheedy, for a family celebration at home. Amy's 28, married young to a workin' stiff like Dear Old Dad, but things are unraveling -- we all recall how the Reagan administration loved steelworkers. So hubby's mostly laid off, and that means Amy is already pissed off. What happens during this movie doesn't put her in any better of a mood.
Ally Sheedy is seven or eight years younger, has a boyfriend who's about to become a fiancé, and has decided rather than trying to go through the traditional college route, to marry and go to night school, much to her older sister's vexation. There is a son who lives in San Diego and isn't seen until about halfway through the movie, first on a visit to be there for his mother when Dad leaves her and then for his kid sister's wedding.
Ellen Burstyn works in a beauty shop during the day, and we get the impression that hers is one of those old-fashioned marriages where her husband spends a lot of time out with the boys while she socializes with her grown daughters and other women from work or church. Yet it appears that she and her husband have a sort of contentedness to their union, and until Ann-Margret punches in for her first night at the Shamrock, all seems to be well. Ellen begs off for the evening at the Shamrock, so Gene goes alone. It appears the scriptwriters see Ellen's action as some symbolic "I'm sending my husband out alone so if he cheats I deserve it" message.
Down at the tavern, Gene Hackman and Brian Dennehy flirt good-naturedly with Ann-Margret for a bit, then Micole asks the birthday boy for a dance (inexplicably, since the song is almost over, but whatever). Then Gene asks Ann-Margret to dance, to which she replies, "I'd rather have a kiss," which he is only too eager to bestow. Next morning, he's meeting her in a shopping mall parking lot to spend one of those "new romance" days together, walking around the park, eating ice cream cones, etc.
A previous reviewer really savaged Ellen Burstyn's character, alleging that anyone as boring and homebodyish as her should just about EXPECT to get dumped. While I agree with him that Ellen's character was insufficiently developed, I can't agree that Gene Hackman was portrayed as a rat. The whole movie seemed to take it for granted that the affair "just happened," and that therefore Gene and Ann-Margret were blameless. Not in my book. One of the most hilarious moments is when, three or four days into the affair, a friend of Ellen's sees Gene and Ann-Margret in his car and tells Ellen about it. When Ellen confronts Gene, he goes to Ann-Margret, saying he told Ellen that the affair was "separate" from the marriage. (Well, duh, partner. That's why it's wrong. Whatever ...) Anyhoo, Ann-Margret reacts with proper outrage, but it's not because Gene is screwing around on his wife. Oh, no, it's because Gene won't dump his wife for her. "If we're to make it, it's got to be JUST YOU AND ME, and no one else," she huffs. Gee, I'll bet his wife thinks the same thing.
In short order, Gene leaves Ellen and moves into a rathole apartment downtown. Ellen is catatonic with grief for a time, then after a triumphant night at the bingo hall, she goes back to work at the beauty shop, gets a makeover, and goes to her first Chippendales bar. The plot puts her to work sewing dresses for Ally's wedding, and that's pretty much it for Ellen's character until the very last scene when she finally speaks up for herself (it's one of the finest moments in the movie). I would have found it a lot more interesting if the movie had focused on Ellen's putting her life back together, rather than throwing a rosy spotlight on the affair between Gene and Ann-Margret.
Perhaps one reason I was so critical of Amy Madigan's character is that her anger was so understandable. At the end of the movie, when Gene attempts to speak to her on the sidewalk in front of the church where Ally just got married, Amy tells him "This isn't the time and it isn't the place," and stalks off. Gene watches everyone leave, then intercepts the florist who's carrying out flowers to grab a few for Ann-Margret. Not only a cheater, but a cheap cheater at that. Doesn't it make you get all misty?
This is well made and everything...but this has been done to death before and this adds nothing new. Aside from some swearing (the R rating for this is not deserved) this plays like a made for TV movie. I knew what was coming constantly all through the movie and quickly tired of it. It doesn't even have a conclusion! It just sort of stops. (One of my friends said, "I can't say if I like it or not until I see the end!") All the acting was great--especially Burstyn, Ann-Margret and Madigan (she was Oscar nominated for this one) but all the great acting in the world can't overcome the predictable storyline. If you're a sucker for Lifetime movies or predictable family dramas this is right up your alley. This came and went quickly in 1985 and is now (rightfully) forgotten. I believe Ann-Margret was asked about this a few years back in an interview and she couldn't remember doing it! That should tell you something. I give it a 6.