Unmarried Woman, An (1978)

Unmarried Woman, An (1978)

“You are a very complicated woman.”

When Erica (Jill Clayburgh) is told by her husband (Michael Murphy) that he’s leaving her for a younger woman, she and her daughter (Lisa Lucas) both experience shock and anger — but once Erica begins seeing a therapist (Penelope Russianoff) and ventures out to have affairs of her own, she starts to view her new life in a different light.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Bates Films
  • Divorce
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Jill Clayburgh Films
  • Michael Murphy Films
  • Paul Mazursky Films
  • Sexuality
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Paul Mazursky’s seriocomedy about a woman in her thirties… who must put her life back together after her husband… suddenly dumps her” was “hailed as a ground-breaking feminist film, but, considering that the women’s movement had been going strong for a good eight years, it was long overdue and daring only by Hollywood standards.”

He adds that “nevertheless, it is an interesting film, sensitively made by a male director-screenwriter who obviously feels compassion for his female lead and disappointment in the man who let her down.” He asserts that “Clayburgh should have won an Oscar playing Erica” — and in Alternate Oscars, he gives her this award, noting that Clayburgh “makes us feel [Erica’s] confusion and humiliation; her initial hatred for and distrust of all men”:

… “her jealousy toward her teenage daughter for having a boyfriend, and her worry that her ‘baby’ is getting too involved with someone of the heartless gender; her desperate need to pull herself out of the dark abyss when she sees a psychiatrist”:

… “her timidity around new men, curiosity about them and how she’ll respond toward them sexually, and her improved self-image when she does herself proud during a one-night stand (with Cliff Gorman).”

We also see “her realization that she is a desirable woman because of her mutually satisfying relationship with a friendly, handsome artist, Saul (Alan Bates)”:


… “and her final delighted discovery that she has gained control of her life for the first time and that being alone and single is scary but exciting.” He adds that “many viewers couldn’t understand why Erica wouldn’t marry Saul, when he (as played by Bates) seems like the man of most women’s dreams” — but “we agree with her decision to be independent because we see she has blossomed while alone.”

Peary argues that “while this film may have gotten its landmark status by default, it is a perceptive portrait of a woman who becomes more interesting by the moment” — and for the most part, I would agree. Mazursky’s film has held up well, and continues to offer a compelling look at the turmoil and triumph that emerge from something as awful as being duped and dumped by your life partner. (To that end, Murphy’s character is truly despicable — so it’s especially gratifying to see Clayburgh staying strong around him.)

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jill Clayburgh as Erica
  • Good use of New York City location shooting

Must See?
Yes, for Clayburgh’s performance.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Unmarried Woman, An (1978)

  1. An essential film of it’s era and very much a must. I turned eleven in July ’78 and remember all the critics singing it’s praises (Siskel & Ebert leading the pack) and I finally saw it on HBO circa 1979-80 and found it engrossing … not the kind of film one would expect a kid of that age (and a Star Wars buff) to enjoy. Mazursky was a big deal and pretty much all of the films you’ve covered recently were well regarded. Tother one I saw on HBO was Willie & Phill (1980) which was good but a remake of Jules & Jim (1962) and not essential, decent though. His later comedy Moon Over Parador (1988) wasn’t great.

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