An Unmarried Woman

An Unmarried Woman (1978)
★★★ / ★★★★

Erica (Jill Clayburgh) thought she lived a fruitful marriage. Although there were times when little annoyances pushed Erica and Martin (Michael Murphy), her husband, to the edge, they had ways of detaching themselves from the situation and hung onto what was more important. But when Martin suddenly confessed to Erica that he had been seeing another woman, a twenty-six-year-old teacher he met at Bloomingdale’s, for about year and had fallen in love with her, divorce seemed like the only option. Written and directed by Paul Mazursky, “An Unmarried Woman” was an exhaustive experience seen through the eyes of a woman who lost what she believed was the best thing she had and learned that there was a rewarding life outside of marriage so long as she kept an open mind. The way the film moved into a dark period of our protagonist’s life and eventually out of it could have been executed so tritely but it remained fresh due to the performances, especially by Clayburgh, and the way the filmmakers remained true to life’s unfathomable formula of painful and amusing ironies. The scenes I looked forward to involved Erica talking to her friends (Kelly Bishop, Linda Miller, Patricia Quinn) about seemingly pedestrian bourgeois topics of conversation. The closer I listened and observed, the more I learned about what was important to them through their jokes, snide remarks, down to the way they looked at someone who offered an opinion they didn’t agree with. The camera was placed so perfectly that at times it gave the illusion that we were either a part of their group or complete strangers who happened to be sitting next to them. The chemistry among the women was wonderful and it felt refreshing to be around them. Furthermore, I enjoyed that the writing remained honest in terms of the dynamics of friendship. Certainly in my group of friends, although I feel some sort of camaraderie with all of them, there is always one special person that I feel I can confide in more than the rest. In this case, newly vulnerable Erica trusted the tough-talking Elaine (Bishop). Their contrast and the way their roles changed over time fit very well in the picture’s theme of balance being the key to a life of contentment. I chose not to delve too much in Erica and Martin’s marriage because the film simply utilized it as a device to encourage a change in Erica. However, that isn’t to suggest that the two did not share powerful scenes. The husband’s confession was handled with maturity and elegance, despite the tears, mixed with a pinch of first-rate suspense. As Martin discussed his extramarital affair, the camera focused on Erica’s face so tightly, I expected her to lash out at him mid-sentence. I was impressed with Clayburgh’s face as it turned from concern with a dash of confusion to intense anger and disgust. The masterstroke of that key scene was allowing our protagonist to physically walk away after the revelation. As we watched her create distance between herself and the man she loved for years, we could almost feel their special bond being gnawed by pangs of betrayal. Rarely do we get to see the simple act of walking away carry so much emotional resonance. “An Unmarried Woman” were slow in parts, especially the scenes that took place in the therapist’s office, but maybe it was supposed to be. After all, one can argue that starting over and adopting healthier habits don’t happen overnight.

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