The initial attraction of SCENES FROM A MALL is the combination of its two dynamic stars, Bette Midler and Woody Allen, especially Allen, stepping into his first starring role in someone else's movie in over a decade. But the easy rapport between Midler and Allen is just about all this film has going for it. By the plastic reindeer adorning the roofs...read more
The initial attraction of SCENES FROM A MALL is the combination of its two dynamic stars, Bette Midler and Woody Allen, especially Allen, stepping into his first starring role in someone else's movie in over a decade. But the easy rapport between Midler and Allen is just about all this
film has going for it.
By the plastic reindeer adorning the roofs of the beach houses, we can tell that it's Christmastime in Beverly Hills. It's also the 16th anniversary of Nick (Allen), a high-powered sports attorney, and Deborah (Midler), a psychotherapist. They've just sent their kids off on a ski weekend, and are
busy planning a dinner party celebration for later that evening. But first they're going to the local mall to pick up each other's anniversary gifts, and spend the only time they'll have to themselves before the party. After accepting Deborah's gift, a personalized surfboard, Nick, apparently
uneasy, makes a confession: he's had an affair. Obviously ashamed, he tells Deborah that the six-month fling is over, and that it was his only indiscretion--unless you count a few one-night stands years ago.
Deborah, who ironically is still enjoying the success of her book on how to keep your marriage fresh and alive, is furious, and demands a divorce. Nick is at first shocked, but there is no talking Deborah out of it. Over several margaritas in a Mexican restaurant, they begin to divide up their
possessions, getting slightly wistful over their shared experiences and memories. For some unknown reason, they then head into a movie, where Nick starts to panic, realizing he can't live without his wife. While watching the Indian drama SALAAM BOMBAY! their passion is rekindled, much to the
dismay of the other patrons, and they walk out together again.
That is, until Deborah confesses her affair, still ongoing, with a fellow psychologist. Nick calmly announces that their marriage is over, and the shouting and recriminations begin anew. The couple start to plan their lives apart, making biting comments on each other's chances at finding romance
again. But once more, they talk it out, and after Deborah calls her lover to end the affair they come to the gradual realization that they really are made for each other.
Veteran director Paul Mazursky (BOB & TED & CAROL & ALICE, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY) and co-screenwriter Roger L. Simon have clearly intended SCENES FROM A MALL to be a comedic riff on Ingmar Bergman's astonishing SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, but their screenplay is surprisingly flat
and unfunny. The film's idea of a riotous gag is a mime (talented performance artist Bill Irwin, still underutilized by Hollywood) who keeps sneaking up on the quarreling couple, until Allen finally punches him out. As a snapshot of a crumbling marriage, albeit of the shallow, high-powered L.A.
variety, the film doesn't wash either. It doesn't display much insight into why these two individuals, who obviously have a great deal of affection for each other, would have cheated in the first place.
To the film's credit, its two stars really do behave like a long-married couple, especially Midler, who tones down her trademark brassiness for the tender scenes. Allen still doesn't seem able to change his standard whine, so seeing him play a fast-track L.A. attorney (with a tiny ponytail, no
less) is a joke in itself, possibly the major joke in the film; at one point, he even makes a disparaging remark about a friend who prefers New York to L.A., the ultimate irony coming from dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker Allen.
It doesn't help that the action takes place almost entirely within the mall, with no input from friends of the couple or any respite from their bickering. Instead there's a lot of shouting, breakups and makeups, and lots of build-up with little comedic or emotional payoff. There are moments here
and there, but it's mostly ordinary, unimaginative writing. Midler and Allen deserve better. (Profanity, sexual situations.)