“Now that the damage has been done, your husband’s care will be of the finest.”
When her husband (Laurence Luckinbill) becomes increasingly ill after entering the hospital for minor surgery, a woman (Dyan Cannon) soon learns some disturbing secrets about their marriage.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Death and Dying
- Dyan Cannon Films
- Marital Problems
- Otto Preminger Films
Otto Preminger’s directorial career went into serious decline during the last years of his life, as he helmed a series of surreal and/or puzzling oddities — the most notorious of which was the all-star musical flop Skidoo (1968). Unfortunately, Such Good Friends — based on a bestselling novel by Lois Gould — is yet another disappointment in his otherwise estimable oeuvre. With a screenplay by Elaine May (writing under the pseudonym Esther Dale), one has high hopes for the premise — but Preminger manages to botch the entire affair so badly that it’s impossible to tell what might have been done with the story in different hands. The tone is wildly uneven: clearly this was meant to be some sort of black comedy, but Preminger flits between failed attempts to mine the comedic premise — Luckinbill goes in to have a benign mole removed, and ends up in a coma, with his doctors increasingly defensive — and filming the material like a weighty drama about illness and infidelity. The result is that we never know whether the characters are supposed to be reacting to each other realistically or comically.
Making matters worse, we don’t like any of these characters — not even the protagonist (Cannon), whose plight we should presumably empathize with. Our distaste for Cannon’s spoiled housewife is cemented from her very first scenes, as she mutters, “Why did they abolish slavery?!” in frustration when her black maid can’t hear her petulant request to answer the doorbell. When events quickly turn more serious, she thankfully drops her characteristically ditzy screen persona and invests her character with gravitas and nuance, turning in what’s probably one of the best performances of her career. However, she’s at sea in the midst of a messy cinematic train wreck, one even her emotional investment simply can’t salvage.
Note: My opinion of this film diverges considerably from most other critics: Roger Ebert gives it four stars out of four, Stuart Galbraith IV of DVD Talk refers to it as “just about as good” as Annie Hall (!!!), and others point out the wittiness and elegance of the dialogue. It’s likely that my overall distaste for how Preminger handles the material is shadowing my ability to appreciate much else about it — but regardless, I consider this one to be a true clunker.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Dyan Cannon as Julie
No; definitely feel free to skip this one.