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Movie Reviews

Minnie and Moskowitz  

John Cassevettes has made some very bizarre films about a wide variety of nutcases and other dysfunctional individuals, from the alcoholic woman in A Woman Under the Influence, to the selfish couples in Faces. But Minnie and Moskowitz is possibly the most bizarre of them all, because it is under the guise of a romantic comedy about two colourful and mis-matched individuals who find love. Yet the content is far from romantic, and the characters far from sane. People expecting a romantic comedy will be dismayed when they discover they've attended a Cassevettes picture. But if you watch this movie much like you do any other Cassevettes film, you will more than likely receive about the same levels of enjoyment.
The first positive about this film is the fact that this film has finally been released on video, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment, a great company if you are looking for dirt-cheap videos of practically any genre (although somehow I imagine that Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS probably sells a bit more than this one!). This means that almost every Cassevettes film, at one time or another, has been released on video. I think Too Late Blues, from Cassevettes's failed attempts to break into big-studio productions back in the early 60's, is the only one not yet released.

In Minnie and Moskowitz, Gena Rowlands, who was married to Cassevettes, and Seymour Cassel star as possibly one of the most oddest romantic couples ever in the movies. She is a museum curator, suffering through a bad relationship with a married man (played by Cassevettes). He is a lower-class hippie of sorts, who goes through life working odd jobs, usually involving the parking of cars.

They meet in what is, to me, the single most insane sequence ever in a Cassevettes film. Rowlands goes on a date with a man who tries much too hard to impress her with his feelings for her beauty and his willingness to reveal his weaknesses before lashing out at her, and blondes (!) in general, when his efforts are politely dismissed. This leads to a fight outside between Cassel and the man, and then a very strange interaction between the two afterwards, when, after freaking her out and dropping her off on the street, decides to chase her down again to the point of driving on the sidewalk to get her. Yet they start a relationship, which, in its own way, appears almost as doomed as her relationship with the married man, as he is unable to temper his obsession for her, and she finds it difficult to decide whether to remain with him or not.

It is extremely difficult to accept this story as about a beautiful love affair. Everyone acts a little nutty, and, as with other Cassevettes films, it can sometimes get a little scary. But the relationship is compelling to view, somewhat like watching an accident on some Fox police video special, only a lot more insightful. I wonder, for example, if there is any significance to the main characters' enjoyment of Bogart films. Cassel is seen watching The Maltese Falcon, while Rowlands is seen viewing Casablanca. In the simplest terms, of course we've got the macho man watching the tough-guy flick, while the romantic dreamer watches the romantic chick flick. In Falcon, Bogart, as Sam Spade, is a cold-blooded individual, without sympathy even for the woman who supposedly loves him, and working on his own code, while in Casablanca, Bogart's tough exterior masks a vulnerability, as he is forced to admit his feelings for Ingrid Bergman. In Minnie and Moskowitz, it is painfully apparent that Seymour has his own code, while Minnie falls for anyone who gives her a sweet line or two, even if it's someone as rotten as the Cassevettes character, or as obsessed as Seymour. As the film begins, Seymour is seen aggressively flirting with unknown women at bars (and getting in to trouble due to it), while Minnie only now doubts her relationship with Cassevettes enough to leave him. Overall, the two make this relationship extremely difficult for themselves - he can be nice, but his madness over her escalates to outright possessiveness, a good example being when he (unsuccessfully) picks a fight with a guy who takes Minnie home from a dance; this after Seymour abandons her at that very dance because of what he feels is embarrassment on her part when she fails to adequately introduce him to people (from an obviously higher social circle) whom she knows. The fact that Minnie sticks with the guy through to the end of the story (this is, after all, supposed to be a romantic comedy, so this is no surprise) is evidence of either patience, or her own form of madness. I think myself that most audiences will find a problem with this film on the basis of Cassel's character, because we live in an era where behaviour such as Seymour's is not acceptable. Numerous TV-movies have been made about stalkers and other possessive types, and if this movie were pitched by someone other than Cassevettes to a movie executive, it would probably be sold as a creepy thriller.

The acting is very interesting, especially since, for the most part, it doesn't feel like acting. Cassevettes's films do not appear grounded in simple character development as seen in conventional films -- his characters rant and rave, behave erratically, sometimes violently, and do generally crazy things. You get the impression that these performers are winging it - and winging it fairly well -- most of the time, although it is probably more the case of Cassevettes knowing how to stage such behaviour, and the actors knowing how to play it.

Overall, Minnie and Moskowitz is a very interesting entry in the Cassevettes filmography. I don't think it is as good as A Woman Under the Influence, or even Shadows, but it is certainly more accessible than, say, Faces, which was too long-winded even for Cassevettes. People expecting something cute will be disappointed, but if you are looking for something truly different, or for more craziness from Cassevettes, this film will certainly do the job.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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