Interiors (1978) feels like Woody Allen wanting us to take him seriously, as though making groundbreaking comedies wasn’t good enough. It’s an incredibly conscientious film, shot with skill by Gordon Willis and laden with somber qualities, but it’s also incredibly underwhelming. And not even that original. The problems of the characters have been explored in Allen’s films for his entire career: artistic frustration, fear of commitment, fear of death, etc. Allen has always managed to steal from himself. Some critics would argue that he’s developing several themes over the course of his long career; and if you watch an older Allen film out of context with the rest of his body of work--as I have done, seeing them in a fairly haphazard fashion, starting with, I think, 1993’s Manhattan Murder Mystery and basically working backwards--you do get an unfair advantage. I was, for instance, comparing the three sisters of Interiors (played by Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, and Kristin Griffith) to the three sisters of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and I kept thinking that Allen had done better with his material in that considerably lighter movie.
My mind also drifted to the comparably recent Cassandra’s Dream (2007), another of Woody Allen’s serious pieces, which I detest. Some people adore his dramas, and that’s fine. Allen obviously wants to remind us that he’s scene Bergman’s films, that he’s a well-rounded cinephile, but it’s this need to prove himself that makes Interiors so disengaging. The icy Wasp-mother, played to a kind of heartless, horrifying perfection by Geraldine Page, is so awful that it’s a relief when she drowns herself at the end, except that we know she died a martyr in her own mind. If her neglected daughter Joey (Hurt) can experience some kind of relief in the death of her unfeeling, self-involved mother, it seems somehow trite that Allen turns the event into a device, allowing Joey, the middle sibling who could never express herself like her older sister Renata, the writer (Keaton) or her gorgeous younger sister Flyn, the actress (Griffith), to finally create something fulfilling: a diary. (I must confess I’m guessing on the birth order here; I don’t know that the film makes it very clear, except that Flyn is obviously the youngest.)
With E.G. Marshall as the doctor-father who leaves his wife after 30-plus years of marriage, Maureen Stapleton as the new woman in his life (who has some good moments, the only real air in the whole movie), Sam Waterston, and Richard Jordan.