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MAN, isn't adolescence funny? Isn't insecurity simply hilarious? And aren't young couples just as cute as can be? Director Alan Paula has combines these three never-fail jokes in a film which manages to be as boring as upstate New York, where it was made. Briefly, The Sterile Cuckoo is one of the other side of the generation gap's pleasanter fantasies of this side.
The adolescents involved. "Pooch" (if you can believe it) and Jerry, are freshmen at college. (College... you know what that is, where they have mad, crushing parties in the middle of the day with loud music and people pouring beer on each other's heads; where your roommate leeringly asks you if you have laid your girlfriend yet... you must have read about it somewhere.) Pookie is slightly neurotic, if one would describe a person with all the symptoms of a speed-freak in those words. Jerry is straightman. He is so deeply affected by contact with the chick that his inch-long hair becomes tousled and he starts wearing a sweater instead of a three-piece suit.
Yet not only are these two adolescent, they are insecure. Pookie is insecure because her mother died giving birth and her father travels... subtle, ch? That's why she jabbers on for hours, days even. It is also the probable excuse for why she makes up such dear little stories to tell nuns and boardinghouse ladies. Jerry is secure-he has a good family. You can tell he is secure by the immobility of his facial features and by the fact that he thinks Pookie is a little "crazy."
Sterile has all the requisite scenes of the pair wandering under the trees with linked hands, running in sunny fields, on cloudy beaches, and kissing in cars. But then something happens. When they kiss, they aren't happy. They stop and turn away from each other... They are aroused!
See Pookie and Jerry all frightened in a car. See Jerry rent a shabby cabin. See them look at each other all afraid and embarrassed. See how silly he is taking off her clothes. Wake up, wake up, audience. This is what "the young people" are up to today.
The film does end after a while. She's too insecure, and he is too secure. Big surprise.
Liza Minnelli gives a credible performance as Pookie, but salvaging Sterile is too hopeless a task. Her co-star, Wendeli Burton, acts like a man of thirty pretending to be a fourteen-year-old kid when the role calls for an eighteen-year-old pretending to be twenty-five.
What is reputed to be a script depends mainly on one-liners for comedy, and few of them were worth the effort. What can you say about a film where the statement, "The leaves are yellow" and the reply, "Because they're dying, huh" pass for significant dialogue?
How much of The Sterile Cuckoo's lifelessness is from the book by John Nichols and how much is the result of Pakula's fatuousness is tough to say. But I didn't read Valley of the Dulls to see if the book was as bad as the movie.
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