Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

“Your life is really full of crap, isn’t it?”

Poster

Synopsis:
A housewife (Carrie Snodgress) married to a demeaning and demanding husband (Richard Benjamin) rebels by having an affair with a self-absorbed writer (Frank Langella).

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Review:
Frank and Eleanor Perry’s adaptation of Sue Kaufman’s novel is a delightfully acerbic glimpse at gender roles in the early 1970s. Keeping in mind the film’s title (the story is distinctly told from Snodgress’s point of view), it’s easy to accept the humorously over-the-top depictions of both Benjamin and Langella as true male chauvinists — this is how she perceives them. Snodgress (in her first leading role, she was nominated for an Oscar) is marvelous as Tina, the titular housewife — she manages to make us believe not only that Tina would put up with Benjamin’s abuse, but that she would rebel with a man who treats her just as badly. Through incisive editing, we’re shown Tina choosing to visit Langella each time things get too awful at home — it’s her version of a safe haven. The clever ending — which puts the entire story in a slightly different light — is especially well-conceived.

P.S. Click here to read a 1970 interview with Frank and Eleanor Perry re: DOAMH (and their other collaborative works).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Carrie Snodgress’s wonderful performance as Tina
    Snodgress
  • Richard Benjamin as Tina’s hideously self-righteous husband
    Benjamin
  • Frank Langella as Tina’s equally insufferable lover, George
    Langella
  • A witty look at oppression and liberation in the early days of women’s lib
    Marriage

Must See?
Yes, for Snodgress’s Oscar-nominated performance. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)”

  1. A must – though I must say I’m simultaneously ambivalent about this film cause I consider it something of an odd duck. I think I felt that way when it first came out, and seeing it again now hasn’t changed my overall feeling. It’s perhaps a once-and-done, cause it’s not like you really see new things in it with subsequent viewings. It’s not subtle, it’s not varied, and it’s relentless.

    Is there anyone in this film worth liking, really? Even Snodgress?; sure, she’s somewhat elfin in appearance and character – but when we realize she seems to have an acquired-by-necessity, passive-aggressive nature…she gets hard to go to bat for. (Note, late in the film, the particular venom that spews from her towards Langella – justifiable or not, it seems to come out of nowhere; or is she just reacting to ‘the ultimate insult’?)

    Still, she’s a lot easier to stomach than Langella or, esp., Benjamin. I don’t question the talent of any actor in the film, but L & B are essentially sides of the same grossly pompous coin and they make you want to run for the hills. (Esp. Benjamin; though I do love the moment when Benjamin says “What does that mean?” after Snodgress uses the word pretentious, one waits for the scene in which Snodgress goes ‘shopping’ for cyanide.)

    Needless to say, I suppose, that I don’t find the film at all “delightful” or “witty”. I find it generally appalling – even though there is the odd moment
    in which the viewer would probably lose it in laughter (oh, say, when an ill-mannered – to say the least – daughter of Snodgress’ becomes indignant in way-too-adult a fashion when Snodgress insists that her children use the right words for things…like ‘vagina’). Worse – here’s a film which I don’t think is helped by its inconclusiveness, since there’s so little to look back on and ponder. All that said, yes, it’s a must – like an accident you can’t avert your eyes from.

    Working with his wife Eleanor, director Perry concocted some very offbeat stuff about the human condition, often revealing a bleak view of the world and the people who inhabit it. [Notice in Perry’s ‘Mommie Dearest’ (made without Eleanor) that there is a scene similar to the one in ‘Diary’ in which Benjamin
    admits defeat to Snodgress – only it’s Joan Crawford doing to the same to her daughter Christina.]

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