Starting Over (1979)

Starting Over (1979)

“I am no one-nighter — I’m a teacher!”

When a writer (Burt Reynolds) is divorced by his aspiring-songwriter wife (Candice Bergen), he begins an affair with a preschool teacher (Jill Clayburgh) — but are Reynolds and Bergen really over each other?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan J. Pakula Films
  • Burt Reynolds Films
  • Candice Bergen Films
  • Divorce
  • Jill Clayburgh Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Romantic Comedy

Alan J. Pakula directed this adaptation of Dan Wakefield’s 1973 novel about the challenges of dating after a divorce. As the film opens, we can see that Reynolds is none too happy about divorcing his beautiful (albeit tone-deaf) wife, Bergen, who is initiating the break.

Thankfully, Reynolds receives loving support from his brother (Charles Durning) and sister-in-law (Frances Sternhagen):

… who quickly set him up with a friend (Clayburgh) (though their “meet-cute” turns out to be embarrassingly awkward).

Naturally, things progress from there — and the entire film is spent showing how Reynolds and Clayburgh (who seems to be building on momentum from her quirky character in An Unmarried Woman) navigate both their mixed emotions and their strong attraction to one another.

While played for laughs at times, the overall tone of James L. Brooks’s screenplay rings realistic — at least until Bergen comes back into the picture and, inevitably, messes with their happiness.

We’ve been primed for this turn of events by others in the support group Reynolds is attending, whose members warn about the dangers of reconciliation with your ex-wife.

It’s really distressing to see Clayburgh hurt — and the remainder of the story plays out pretty painfully. While realistic about the vagaries of the human heart, Starting Over isn’t an easy ride; however, it’s worth a look for the strong lead performances (Reynolds is especially impressive in an off-type role).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Burt Reynolds as Phil
  • Jill Clayburgh as Marilyn
  • Candice Bergen as Jessica

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Starting Over (1979)

  1. First viewing (1/17/21). Skip it.

    Mild and mostly uncomfortable ‘comedy’. Reynolds misses Bergen while he’s trying a little too hard in his new relationship with someone he’s not that well-suited to: Clayburgh. Clayburgh borders on annoying so it’s a little difficult believing that Reynolds would keep trying with her. It’s all a little neurotic – but the music score keeps going back and forth between ‘romantic’ and ‘bouncy’.

    Along the way, there are a few mildly funny lines. And, gee, it’s all so tasteful-looking (thanks largely to Ingmar Bergman’s go-to DP Sven Nykvist). But then ‘tension’ becomes… which woman will he choose? And I didn’t care.

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