A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Directed by John Cassavetes
"Mabel's not crazy, she's unusual," says construction foreman Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) about his beloved wife in the opening minutes of John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence (1974). It's sweet of Nick to always be covering for her, um, eccentricities, but in point of fact, Mabel (Gene Rowlands, Cassavetes's wife and frequent on-screen avatar) is mad as a hatter.
The five-film box set Criterion issued in 2004, which includes Woman, was a boon for everyone who has already fallen under the spell of Cassavetes's uniquely visceral art. But non-initiates owe it to themselves to see this ur-indie classic for the first time in the Museum of Modern Art's revival, where they'll be stranded in a theater for all of its two and a half hours of raw emoting without the relief of a pause button.
As the lower-middle-class Los Angeles housewife and mother of three losing her shit, the heartbreakingly beautiful, heartbreakingly vulnerable Rowlands gives a career performance (though, arguably, she'd outdo herself again three years later as a dipsomaniacal stage actress in Cassavetes's Opening Night). When Nick comes home one day to find Mabel hosting a children's party where kids are running naked and acting out death scenes from Swan Lake, he finally decides to have Mabel committed. Nick, however, isn't exactly stable himself. By the final act, set six months later when Mabel returns, Cassavetes has developed this domestic melodrama into something much broader, a full report on the psychosis of contemporary American life.
October 24-30 at MoMA