Chilly Scenes of Winter (1982)

“You have this exalted view of me, and I hate it.”

Chilly Scenes of Winter Poster

Synopsis:
An unhappy man (John Heard) with a mentally ill mother (Gloria Grahame) and a deadbeat roommate (Peter Riegert) reminisces obsessively about the love of his life (Mary Beth Hurt), who has left him to return to her A-frame selling husband (Mark Metcalf).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that Joan Micklin Silver’s “offbeat” adaptation of Ann Beattie’s novel — about a man whose “obsessiveness, jealousy, and constant flattery drive [the married woman he loves] back to her husband” — has “many special, funny, charming moments”; but he complains that “Heard and Hurt [are] offputting” as “screen characters”. It’s true that Heard’s boring, whiny protagonist isn’t exactly likable (he edges dangerously close to stalker tendencies), while Hurt’s chronic indecisiveness about her romantic life eventually becomes simply tiresome. Then again, these characters — effectively played by Heard and Hurt — are both eminently realistic: who hasn’t known people struggling with similar concerns, if to a less extreme degree? Indeed, it’s exactly such fidelity to real-life relationship woes that likely endears audiences to both the film and the book, which collectively possess a small cult following (see IMDb’s message board, where diehard fans reminisce about what might have become of the characters years later).

In his review, Peary argues that while Heard and Hurt “may be real characters”, he “never believe[s] their responses to each other” — a complaint which seems to speak to the screenplay’s literary origins. While I don’t personally have any trouble believing in Heard and Hurt’s interactions, other elements of the screenplay — such as Heard’s repeated dealings with a frustrated blind vendor — come across as overly scripted. It’s also frustrating to see so little made of some of the most interesting supporting characters — i.e., Gloria Grahame as Heard’s loony mom (film fanatics will be thrilled to recognize her, and disappointed by how little screentime she’s given), and Hurt’s put-upon husband “Ox” (with a name like that, wouldn’t you like to learn just a bit more about him?). However, the film itself — expertly directed by Silver — is certainly worth a one-time look, especially given its minor cult status.

Note: Peary concludes his review by noting that he finds “the original [upbeat] ending” from the film’s previous release (in 1979, under the alternate title Head Over Heels) to be “more logical” — but this will be a moot point for modern viewers, who unfortunately won’t have the opportunity to compare versions.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mary Beth Hurt as Laura
    Chilly Scenes Hurt
  • John Heard as Charles
    Chilly Scenes Heard

Must See?
Yes, once — as a cult favorite.

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One Response to “Chilly Scenes of Winter (1982)”

  1. First viewing. Skip it.

    This is a tedious rom-dram with an engaging cast held captive in inertia. Typical of many ’70s films, it holds to the belief that “slice of life” is interesting, for being what it is. Well, it depends on the life and the slice. In narration, Heard’s character admits he’d dull. Hurt’s character states she can’t see what he sees in her.

    I’m forced to agree completely with the two of them. These are not interesting people. They have no color or depth. And what is this relationship based on? Nothing but a vague, ill-defined need on both sides. So why should we care?

    As screenwriter, Silver seems to think that being good at capturing the rhythms of snappy banter is the same thing as capturing solid dialogue. It isn’t.

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