Incredible Shrinking Woman, The (1981)

Incredible Shrinking Woman, The (1981)

“To my family, I’d become a doll — and to our dog, a chew-stick.”

After exposure to a multitude of household chemicals, a housewife (Lily Tomlin) begins shrinking, much to the horror of her husband (Charles Grodin) and two kids (Shelby Balik and Justin Dana). Meanwhile, her husband’s boss (Ned Beatty) conspires with her doctors (Henry Gibson and Elizabeth Wilson) and the leaders (Tom Keller, Jim McMullan, and Pamela Bellwood) of a secret organization to capture Tomlin and use her blood as part of a plan for world domination.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Fantasy
  • Lily Tomlin Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Ned Beatty Films
  • Science Fiction
  • World Domination

Joel Schumacher made his directorial debut helming this reasonably entertaining — though clearly inferior — comedic follow-up to the 1957 sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) (based on Richard Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man). In this modernized version of Matheson’s story (scripted by Tomlin’s long-time collaborator and parter, Jane Wagner), the protagonist is a woman instead of a man, and the proposed culprit for her situation — a deluge of household chemicals:

— plays upon newfound societal fears about environmental contaminants. Unfortunately, Tomlin is a bit too bland in the title role as a happily married housewife faced with the ultimate nightmare:

(though she has fun in a secondary role playing a helpful neighbor named Judith Beasley), and the screenplay misses out on ripe opportunities for more incisive social commentary — either about the contested role of housewives in a male-dominated society, or the escalating presence of unknown chemicals in our everyday lives. Sadly, the film eventually devolves into a silly world-domination subplot involving — sigh — a captive humanoid gorilla (famed makeup artist Rick Baker in a suit), rather than allowing Tomlin’s character to sink ever further into the horrors of increasing diminution (as is handled so effectively in the original film). However, while The Incredible Shrinking Woman is certainly no classic, the special effects are nicely handled, and it’s enjoyably loopy enough to merit a look by curious film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lily Tomlin as Judith Beasley
  • Impressive special effects and sets

Must See?
No, though film fanatics may be curious to check it out given its connection to Jack Arnold’s 1957 classic (and Matheson’s novel).


One thought on “Incredible Shrinking Woman, The (1981)

  1. Not a must.

    ~but somewhat better than I remembered it. I saw this on release (and not, I think, since then). In retrospect…since I had seen Tomlin & Wagner’s collaborative work that resulted, for example, in Tomlin’s rather subversive – and brilliant – one-woman show, ‘The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe’, I was rather disappointed that ‘TISW’ came off lightweight. Watching the film again now, many years later, I see it for what it is: an attempt at mild, mainstream comedy.

    Does it work? …Yes, mildly. But probably not so much for fans of Tomlin & Wagner at their best.

    Here and there, there are small gems in the writing. I love an observation from Lily (as Pat) like, “I knew I was being stared at, but I didn’t know I was being spied on – and in my own shopping mall.” And Wagner gets in some terrific trademark humor that you might miss if you’re not paying attention – like when Lily (as Judith) is in the supermarket reading the ingredients of a product (“…synthetic spermatozoa…tumescent tissue of bull scrotum…”). Another nice touch comes when former talk show host Mike Douglas starts his show (in honor of Pat) by singing “Little Things Mean A Lot”.

    But it’s a shame that the film aims for acceptance from the masses instead of from real Tomlin/Wagner fans. As is, it sadly doesn’t even register as cult-worthy. It’s just oh-so-mildly pleasant. I don’t particularly mind the direction the script takes or escalates to (I actually rather like the King Kong aspect in the latter half). I just think it suffers from the lack of a wild element, which could have made it more memorable overall.

    It’s sure a hell of a lot better than ‘Moment by Moment’ – apparently a film all involved with would rather just forget ever happened.

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