One year after the widespread critical acclaim and commercial appeal of Annie Hall, Woody Allen released a film that was its polar opposite: Interiors.
Not a comedy and not starring Woody, at the time this film must have completely thrown audiences who were either used to silly fare like Bananas and Sleeper, or neurotic romantic comedies like Play It Again, Sam and Annie Hall. Not that this film isn’t about neurotics – it’s about a whole family with major issues – but here the characters aren’t going for laughs.
The story is about the three daughters of a mentally unstable interior decorator, Eve (Geraldine Page), and distant father Arthur (E.G. Marshall). Renata (Diane Keaton) is a poet with suicidal thoughts, Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) is a frustrated artist who can’t find an outlet and Flyn (Kristin Griffith) is an actress who is mostly absent making Hollywood movies. After Arthur announces that he wants a separation (over breakfast), rifts between the children widen and Eve’s fragile emotional state only becomes even worse. Arthur later announces he will marry the vivacious Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), which leads to family confrontations and ultimately, tragedy.
It isn’t just the fact that there is ‘tragedy’ that is so surprising with this film. It’s the style: the stark, colourless production design and the cool, detached direction. Characters walk out of frame and return; there is no music on the soundtrack; everything is Very Serious. As we know now from subsequent films, Woody can be very serious and he loves drama. Like his comedies, his dramas come in all colours, and this one is very beige.
I had seen this film once before and I wasn’t overly looking forward to seeing it again. For a film around the 90-minute mark (Woody’s standard running time) it does seem like longer. A lot of the drama and the visual symbolism seems a little obvious, such as Pearl’s bright dresses against the family’s muted costumes. What the film does well is to never dip into wild melodrama, but at the same time its mannered style, restrained characters and icy subject matter can make the film seem as if it is lacking passion.
Having said that, there are still elements that stay with me. Joey’s desire to be an artist, but without anything to say and a suspicion that she’s not very good anyhow, is really interesting for a character. On the flip side, Renata’s frustration with being a successful artist is also interesting, since she has to battle bigger concerns such as mortality on one level and petty family squabbles on another.
Interiors marked Woody Allen as much more than a comedian. I’m not one of those who only likes his funny films, but even as a drama I feel he could (and would) do much better. Speaking of Very Serious, here is the dour trailer:
Next week: Manhattan