WOODY ALLEN COULD have cashed in his chips in a very big way after Annie Hall. He could have stopped making movies, could have stopped being an anxious, nervy little guy who makes people squirm while they laugh, could have given up on his artistic angst. He might just have just put his feet up, smiled at his rows of Oscars, and lived like a sheik for the next hundred years.
Instead, Allen put it all on the line with Interiors. In making his first serious movie, what he calls "a drama in the traditional sense," Allen gambled his presumed hammerlock on American humor for a shot at fame as a "serious artist." If Interiors flops, all Allen will have left is the old image of an undignified loser--only it won't seem quite so funny any more.
Whatever prompted him to try this film--whether boredom with his mastery of the "Woody Allen" genre of films or simply a middle-aged change-of-life crisis--Allen is playing with no less than his career. So if the weight of the world hung over Allen when he wrote and directed Interiors, it shows in the film. Interiors is very, very sober: the story chronicles a family's trials and collapse, and the script is filled with heavy dialogue. The father, played by a stalwart but silent E.G. Marshall, severs ties with his compulsive interior decorator-wife (Geraldine Page), breaking up a family that never seemed to be very close. Two daughters--Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), the father's favorite, and Renata (Diane Keaton), the mother's protoge--display tension and jealousy even thicker than blood, as it were. A third daughter, in turn, has drawn away from the family, retaining only casual ties that shield her from real emotional involvement. Almost every sentence between these characters is either a painful expression of guilt, or an even more trying repression of feelings the family cannot even talk about.
Exploring the pathalogical psychology of families is a fairly new idea to psychiatrists, and an entirelv new one to American film. Although the mourer, who creates and controls the family's world as she would one of her interiors, is clearly the most neurotic and unstable person in the family, the focus of Interiors is not on her alone. Instead, Allen examines how her illness reflects on each member of the family, and in all of their relations with one another. Each character, with the exception of the daughters' husbands, stands as an individual, compelling our attention, yet we are continually drawn back to the complex relationships within the family.
The film is plainly a tribute to Igmar Bergman, the master at expressing intense emotion and psychological drama on film. Allen emulates Bergman as a student would imitate the master of his craft. The effort, though somewhat over-wrought, like that of a too-careful student, succeeds. A talented cast, well-directed, saves the heavy screenplay from sinking into murky melodrama. Mary Beth Hurt, as the youngest daughter, the one with "all the anguish of an artistic personality without any of the talent," is especially good in her film debut. And Geraldine Page evokes the neurotic woman "too perfect to live in this world" with startling precision.
Allen's cinematography also imitates Bergman. Interiors is beautiful, almost too beautiful, as if constructed by someone just as neurotic as Page's interior decorator. The interiors are spare, still and natural, an appropriate setting for this family. But Allen forces the issue, almost to the point of being a farce: when the father's new girlfriend (Maureen Stapleton) crashes in on the scene in flaming red and glitter, the contrast becomes too obvious, almost ludicrous. The ocean rumbles too loud and too often, even if the isolation of the beaches is such an appropriate setting. And in the last shots--after the mother is dead and buried and the new wife properly installed--the tranquility of the ocean and the family is so simple a device it seems merely trite. Allen adheres so closely to a unity of form and content that his film becomes artsy, rather than art.
A CASE COULD be made that Allen really made Interiors as a parody of serous movies. All the little extravagances of filming and over-indulgences in character--notably the highbrow/lowbrow contrast between the family and the father's new girlfriend--could lead to such an interpretation; that's assuming, of course, that Allen still had his tongue in his cheek while he made the film. But if Allen is really chuckling at all the suckers who took him seriously, then he clearly failed. As a genuine effort in serous psychological drama, Interiors is mostly successful; for that reason, it doesn't make it as a parody.
Allen has succeeded as a comedian because he understands people's serious motivations. Interiors errs on the side of diligence--he tried too hard to stifle the humor, to create an "art film." But for all that, it is worth seeing. In the context of his career, Allen's debut on the serious screen was a credible effort, distinguished by solid acting and an ambitious conception. If Allen's neurotic energy drives him to keep working on serious movies, Interiors should prove to have been a good investment.