Saturday, October 21, 2017

Diary of a Mad Housewife

The first exchanges in Frank Perry's Diary of a Mad Housewife make it clear that Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress) isn't living the American dream. Her husband Jonathan (Richard Benjamin) treats her like garbage (their daughters aren't any better) and she never gets the support she deserves. Frustrated, she starts an affair with writer George Prager (Frank Langella). And even that's no walk in the park.

From a time when women were starting to be viewed as actual human beings, it seems strange that Diary of a Mad Housewife was released then. For once since who knows when women could lead liberating lives without (for the most part) getting berated. So to see an educated woman allow herself to be verbally degraded regularly is discomforting, to say the least.

And bear in mind that by this point in Hollywood, women were having their voices heard more behind both the typewriter and the camera. (Released the same year as Diary of a Mad Housewife was Wanda, Barbara Loden's lone foray as a director.) With the likes of Elaine May and Barbara Kopple on the cusp of their own fame, again it feels strange to watch this with that in mind.

But what's more likely is that Diary of a Mad Housewife is told from Tina's point of view. She's the only character in the film that's basically in every scene so it's hard to say if that's actually how she's treated. (More telling since Sue Kaufman's source novel was adapted by Perry's then-wife Eleanor -- whom he divorced the following year -- so who knows?)

Anyway, Diary of a Mad Housewife may seem tame by today's standards (and in comparison to other films of the decade) but back in 1970, it must've caused a stir upon its release. (Groucho Marx was certainly not a fan of it.) Either way, it captured an ignored woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

My Rating: ****

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