A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

woman under the influence poster 1974 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, Gena Rowlands is fantastic

Hard to watch due to the subject matter, not for everyone

Movie Info

Movie Name:  A Woman Under the Influence

Studio:  Faces

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  October 12, 1974 (New York Film Festival)/November 18, 1974 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

woman under the influence gena rowlands waiting for bus

Perfectly normal waiting for the bus

Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands) has been acting…odd.  It is embarrassing to her husband Nick (Peter Falk) and their children are starting to notice.  As Mabel gets progressively worse, something must be done, and Nick must do something about Mabel.  Mabel is walking a tightrope and it is just getting harder and harder to balance her life…something is going to give.

Written and directed by John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence is a drama.  Following Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz in 1971, the film was released to critical acclaim and received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Rowlands) and Best Director.  The film was selected for Preservation in the National Film Registry in 1990 and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the movie as part of their John Cassavetes:  Five Films Boxset (Criterion #250), and its own numbered version (Criterion #253).

A Woman Under the Influence is one of those movies you hear about in pretentious movies conversations.  I never sat down and watched it, but I definitely can see why it comes up…but I also understand why it was revolutionary.  Watching A Woman Under the Influence now also has to be highly different than if you watched it in 1974.

woman under the influence beach trip peter falk

Just going to the beach with dad in the back of a truck drinking beer…things not said in the 2000s.

The story is difficult to watch, and the storytelling feels almost like “slice of life” films.  While it is said she is “under the influence” and drug use and alcohol is mentioned, it feels like Mabel is really suffering from self-medication for some undiagnosed mental condition.  Through the movie you see her struggling and getting no support, but the typical “Act normal!” command from her husband.  I don’t know that in 1974 it would be the same perception.  The stigma and issues surrounding mental health have changed a lot since 1974 (though still not enough) and the characters in the movie do not handle it well turning to physical abuse at time.

Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands is great as Mabel who rages and doesn’t understand her issues just like the people in her life.  She performs the role full of tics and unusual behavior which feels extremely real.  Falk goes from sympathetic to unsympathetic, but he is a character that tries to ignore what is happening.  He doesn’t want to recognize Mabel’s disorder, but he also leaves her trapped in her home with three kids.  The supporting cast is great as the onlookers that are seeing the family collapse and have varying reactions.

woman under the influence gena rowlands peter falk

I’m sure this trainwreck has lasting qualities

The movie is shot in a very modern style.  There are a lot of long shots and the conversationalist style of the script translates to a very naturalistic shooting style.  The performances mesh with this style and create a unique film, but a film that feels very rooted in the 1970s visually.

A Woman Under the Influence is pretty unapologetic, but it feels that way because it is armchair quarterbacking.  A viewer in the 2000s, you know that Mabel is spiraling out of control and not getting the help she needs.  You know she needs to be taken somewhere that can help her and putting children in danger with her isn’t the solution.  There is also the realization that there aren’t many choices for the characters in 1974…and Mabel is doom.  Cassavetes followed A Woman Under the Influence with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie in 1976.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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