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Lovesick (1983)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Moore and McGovern Work Some Magic"
4 stars

The movie didn't do a whole lot of box-office business (under $11 million), but it's more than worthy of rediscovery on home video.

“It’s when your life is just tolerable, sometimes I think that’s the real horror. Slow, quiet death of the soul,” Dudley Moore’s Manhattan psychiatrist Saul Benjamin confesses while lying on the couch of his elderly mentor in the enjoyable romantic comedy Lovesick, and the scene has a fine payoff -- Saul, with a dull marriage and dissatisfaction with his profession, is as repressed as his patients, and when he finally is able to open up he’s met with snores from that mentor who’s fallen asleep in the chair beside him. Written and directed by Marshall Brickman, who collaborated with Woody Allen on the screenplay for Allen’s career-best, Manhattan, Lovesick manages the tricky feat of having contempt for psychiatry without the tone ever becoming contemptuous -- it’s richly observant and treats its subject with a lyrical touch so we never feel we’re either morally or intellectually superior to its screwed-up characters. The people Woody Allen has played in his and Brickman’s movies have been the very definition of “neurotic,” but Brickman, resisting the temptation to stereotype, recognizes the comic potential and organically charts Saul’s emotional progression, so by the end of the movie we feel we’ve witnessed something of a genuine transformation take place without it ever being spelled out and underlined in italics. During the opening-credits sequence, we watch Saul wake up next to his wife and make his way to his office where he methodically opens up his practice (with the somnolence of an assistant manager opening up a convenience store) and gets it ready for his usual array of patients who Saul has begun to realize after years of treating them that there’s nothing particularly wrong with them; still, he goes through the motions because it’s how he makes a living, after all, and the way Moore deftly plays Saul it’s apparent he’s become bored with attending to upper-middle-class New Yorkers whose problems could easily be alleviated if they’d just relax and be receptive to the pleasures life can provide and accepting that nothing in life is free of complications. Into Saul’s nondescript life comes one Chloe Allen (Elizabeth McGovern), a newly-arrived young playwright from a small Illinois town experiencing anxiety attacks in the big city; she was seeing another psychiatrist, a colleague of Saul’s, who became so infatuated with her that he suffered a fatal heart attack due to over-stimulation. And Saul, who she’s been referred to, after a mere five minutes into their first session is just as infatuated. And we can see why. The ethereally-beautiful McGovern, with hypnotic blue eyes and an innocent-yet-sultry demeanor that could penetrate a block of concrete, is positively fetching from the word go; and it’s not long before that she’s infatuated with Saul -- she recounts a sex dream where she was having carnal relations with a famous writer whose last name is Bellow and whose last name just happens to be Saul. (The real-life author Saul Bellow wrote the landmark novel Seize the Day, and this is perfectly fitting in that it’s Saul who succeeds in breaking free and seizing the day without anything being made overly literal of it, with Brickman’s breezy treatment of his material thankfully neutralizing any semblances of sententiousness.)

This is Moore’s first comedic performance since his well-deserved Oscar-nominated one as the drunken millionaire playboy in Arthur (I’m more than willing to forget his drearily saccharine Six Weeks, which handicapped him with both Mary Tyler Moore and a precocious child character dying of leukemia), and though Lovesick doesn’t provide him the inspired taking-off points of that movie, he underplays nicely and convinces us of a bottomed-out man who chooses to act on his instincts for once rather than sublimating them. Brickman is no fool -- he’s devised a couple of scenes with Saul sloshed at a restaurant and his office shortly thereafter, and if there’s any actor better at goofy drunken hijacks than Moore I’m unaware of him. But Moore has grown as an actor in that he now can convey contemplativeness with the assurance that the camera will reach in and pick up on this, so he needn’t depend on externalized eccentricities to sustain our attention. His work here could be called “modest,” which isn’t the worst compliment in the world for an actor who’s often played a jackanapes. (Who can forget his horny disco-dancing businessman in Foul Play?) Yet Moore isn’t the whole show, for Lovesick has been alarmingly well-cast right down the line. McGovern, seen to considerable disadvantage in Milos Forman’s abominable Ragtime two years before, has both solidity and sweetness, and, despite being a good foot taller than her co-star, she matches up well with Moore -- when you see Saul and Chloe together in each other’s arms, you know they’re soul mates for life. Ron Silver does a priceless turn as a fussy, temperamental movie star (reportedly modeled on Al Pacino) who’s starring in Chloe’s play and can’t go five minutes without complaining a certain line isn’t “real.” The theatre veteran Gene Saks will leave you in stitches as a conniption-fits complainer of irrelevancies. The blustery John Huston plays Saul’s closest confidant with oodles of brio. And there’s Alec Guinness as the ghost of none other than Sigmund Freud, who drops in on Saul when he’s charting into unethical territory -- when Saul makes mention of a “Freudian slip,” Freud hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about. The movie errs, I think, with the introduction of “the Society,” a collection of stuffy psychiatrists who’ve set their conniving sights on Saul because of his romantic involvement with Chloe even though he’s rescued himself as her doctor; they’re afraid of a possible lawsuit that could sully their profession’s reputation -- it’s too literal an antagonistic body, and they’ve been conceived as one-dimensional villains who we can’t take a whole lot of pleasure in watching. But other than this misstep and some lapses in pacing, the movie, while slight, isn’t vague and pompous as it would’ve been had, say, the high-minded Harold Pinter had a go of it. Brickman isn’t afraid of being silly (Saul recommends an aluminum-foil wrap for a homeless schizophrenic to put under his cap to ward off the radio waves he imagines are beaming into his head), and with the assistance of the ace British cinematographer Gerry Fisher, Lovesick has a consistently rich color palette. It’s a minor but ingratiating piece of work.

More than worthy a look-see.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28755&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/12/15 20:45:45
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User Comments

3/15/15 Charles Tatum Very enjoyable, Moore nails it 4 stars
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  18-Feb-1983 (PG)



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