“I want a divorce. That’s the only thing to do, isn’t it?”
After announcing he wants a divorce from his wife (Lynn Carlin), an unhappily married businessman (John Marley) spends the night with a call girl (Gena Rowlands); meanwhile, his wife goes to a club with her friends and hooks up with a much younger man (Seymour Cassel).
John Cassavetes’ first “signature” movie — after his experimental debut film, Shadows (1959), and two additional studio pictures — was this utterly bleak yet cinematically groundbreaking look at a bourgeois marriage in decay. Faces features fine, natural performances by everyone involved, and provides a daringly unfiltered look at class and gender relations in 1960s America. Indeed, “unfiltered” is the operative word here: Cassavetes’ first cut of the film (culled from 115 hours of cinema verite footage) was something on the order of six hours long; he eventually edited it down to 130 minutes; but, truth be told, it’s still a long haul to get through. As admirable as Cassavetes’ unconventional, no-holds-barred approach is here, the story is incredibly difficult to watch: emotions are raw and exposed, women are treated abominably, and (in typical Cassavetes fashion) there’s sporadic physical violence and an emotional breakdown. Seymour Cassel’s “Chet” — a hippie living for the moment — brings the only blast of hope into this quagmire of unhappiness; but even he eventually vanishes, leaving these characters to deal, once again, with the oppression of their stultifying lives.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Marley as the successful businessman experiencing a mid-life crisis
- Luminous Gena Rowlands as the call girl who states, “I’m too old to be lovely — and I haven’t got a heart of gold.”
- Lynn Carlin (simply wonderful in her first role) as Marley’s unhappy wife
- Seymour Cassel as the free-spirit who brings romance into Carlin’s life for one brief night
- A painfully honest look at a marriage on the brinks
- Effective, groundbreaking use of natural lighting, cinema verite camera angles, and improvised dialogue
Yes. As difficult as it is to watch, all film fanatics should see this important movie at least once.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)