Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? Had not heard of it. Something comic and strident, perhaps.
What did I get? Now here is a truly interesting movie. Based on a 1967 novel by Sue Kaufman (anyone out there read it?) and never for a moment losing the ineffable stamp of an adaptation, Diary of a Mad Housewife is that rare “issue movie” that manages to transcend its issue. At once broadly satirical and finely true-to-life, the movie sometimes makes nonsense of its ostensible message — that the problem with Tina Balser’s life is the men in it — and frequently smuggles in oodles of resonant footage involving authentic human beings. No mean feat.
Upper East Side housewife Tina is bored and constrained by her insufferably aspiring attorney husband Jonathan, whose apparent social successes leave her mousey and ineffective by comparison. (The truth is that she’s kind of mousey, full stop.) Richard Benjamin is perfectly cast as the irritating and childish aficionado type who neglects her at home. So bashful Tina starts an affair with George Prager, a successful novelist portrayed by a very young Frank Langella.
The first sections of Diary of a Mad Housewife aren’t terribly promising, but once Tina and George’s assignations go weekly, Tina becomes a more complex and relatable character. The movie’s inherent frankness emerges; its observational nuances deepen. Carrie Snodgress is remarkable in the title role, all the more so because her appealingly raspy voice and recessive demeanor unmistakably mark her as an underrepresented type in movies.
So recessive, in fact, that one can’t really credit the movie’s supposed argument: that it’s the fault of all those oppressive men. True, she does gain a measure of self-possession by movie’s end, but one suspects that she’s simply an unemphatic person. And that’s okay — a feel for genuine humanity always trumps political sloganeering.
What here smacks of 1970? A lot. The movie is a veritable time capsule of the well-to-do urban pretentiousness of the day (I’ll bet Matt Weiner has seen this movie). The honest depictions of sex in the movie surely helped the movie to its #1 status.
IMDB score: 6.9
My score: 8
Director: Frank Perry
Writer: Eleanor Perry
Starring: Carrie Snodgress, Richard Benjamin, Frank Langella
IMDB synopsis: Tina Balser is a bored New York housewife-mother married to Jonathan, a pompous, social-climbing lawyer who ridicules her in front of their children, criticizing everything she does or wears. She begins an affair with George Prager, a dashing, successful and blatantly sadistic writer. Finally after George has tormented Tina in much the same manner Jonathan has, and has been unfaithful to boot, she goes back to her husband and begins group therapy.