An Unmarried Woman (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

An Unmarried Woman merited enough respect in 1978 to earn three Oscar nominations, including the Big Kahuna - Best Picture. Although on the surface it is a predictable chick-flick which chronicles one woman's odyssey from happy dependence to abandonment to emerging independence, it managed to transcend that surface because of two major elements:

1. It managed to tell an interesting story about real people saying real things in real situations. That may not sound so impressive on the surface, but think about it. Very few films manage to stay completely anchored in reality. The writers are sorely tempted by the sirens of profitability, who serenade them with the songs of easy acceptance, tempting them to add zany dialogue, dramatic explosions, ludicrous plot twists, and cartoon characterizations. Name one film where everything that happens is believable. Not easy, is it? Now name one film which is both credible and interesting. Virtually impossible. So many people who write about the movies, including me, profess to long for a film completely grounded in reality, only to whine about how boring it is when somebody hands it to us. An Unmarried Woman manages to stay within the known universe without losing our interest except for some short stretches. That alone is pretty impressive.

2. It managed to tap into the seventies "important issues" zeitgeist. The challenges faced by the female protagonist reflected the struggles and concerns of the feminists of that era. Unexpectedly dumped by her husband from what seems like an idyllic marriage, she experiences the horrors of dating, and the uncomfortable process of becoming intimate with strangers. She adapts her traditional thinking to the then-new philosophies about sex and romance. When she finally meets Mr. Right, she refuses to change her life to follow him, thus declaring that she simply doesn't need a man to complete her. As The New Yorker's Pauline Kael wrote in her 1978 review: "He (scriptwriter Paul Mazursky) touches so many women's-liberation bases that you begin to feel as if you'd been passing out leaflets for McGovern."

In addition to those two major positives, the film delivered (and still delivers) a few other minor pleasures along the way. It reminds us of how charming and charismatic Alan Bates was in the prime of his career. It also delivers some surprisingly funny dialogue. Because the story is told through the spurned woman's eyes, it follows her to her lunches with the girls, where the women - liberated from the stifling effect of male egos - raise their consciousness by carrying on raunchy, candid, and totally uninhibited discussions of their sex lives.

Of course, the film will never be as good again as it was in the seventies, because it required both of the elements numbered above to elevate it to the status of a Best Picture nominee. Looking at it today, the woman's journey still seems to be told truthfully, but that trip now produces a shrug of the shoulders instead of a clenched fist and a hearty "right on, sister." The ideas that seemed fresh in 1978 don't seem wrong today, but they do seem trite and obvious, and we just can't muster up all that much sympathy for a beautiful woman living in a gorgeous Manhattan apartment, given that virtually every other woman in the world would willingly exchange places with her, man or no man. Devoid of its emotional context, the film is now stripped of one of the two major elements which made it seem important in 1978. Oh, it still plays out all right. It is still interesting for us guys to eavesdrop on the luncheon conversations, and the overall story still works because it is true and honest, but An Unmarried Woman now leaves us wondering how this solid but unremarkable film could ever have been considered one of the five best in any year.

It's all in the context, lads. 1978 was its time.



  • The widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • There is a full length commentary from director Mazursky and actress Clayburgh



Jill Clayburgh shows her breasts several times.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay.


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C. Although it doesn't live up to the expectations one might have of a Best Picture nominee, it's still solid and honest.

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