Woman Times Seven is a collection of vignettes about seven random women (not adultery, as the synopsis claims) all played by Shirley MacLaine, and all the women are different. That's the whole point, they are different - one is shy, one is a prude, one is a bitch, one is even boring! They end up in different situations, some ridiculous, some poignant. There is no over-arching thread or moral to bind them together. They are character studies more than plots, something American audiences may not appreciate. Some vignettes are left unresolved, some are broad comedies, some are bittersweet. If you are waiting for the punchline it isn't always here, but sometimes it is, leaving the overall flow bumpy and uneven.
I'm not a fan of vignette films, but it's so difficult to find interesting female characters in today's films. How refreshing to see many different "types" here - even if all played by the same actress. MacLaine is good. She's thoughtful about each character and steps out of her usual pixie/harlot role, but taken together it feels like a gimmick - the sum is not greater than the parts. The characters suit the style of each story, so some have gravity and others are comic caricatures that serve the situation - another aspect that makes the film seem uneven. Within each vignette MacLaine does a fine job, using her considerable talents as a dancer to physically embody each woman differently, but we're not with these women long enough to see any metamorphosis.
The first is a grieving widow opposite Peter Sellers whose words of comfort keep turning to inappropriate propositions. The scene belongs completely to Sellers, and it's the weakest of the stories.
The second character is a prudish wife who after discovering her husband and her best friend in bed, runs out of the house vowing to have sex with the first random man she meets. Instead she finds sympathy in a group of prostitutes who exchange war stories about love and men. For all their sexual experience they don't seem to have a better grasp on relationships, and an instant sisterhood bridges their social divide.
The third is a modern sex farce about a beautiful UN translator who has become so jaded about men that she has idolized her platonic relationship with a gay roommate. Meanwhile she reads poetry in the nude and invites two playboy dignitaries to her bed while she shows them slides of modernist paintings. the handsome men humor her bizarre quirks while trying to get the other to leave, a testament to men putting up with any amount of femcrazy to get laid.
The fourth character is the dull housewife who feels she must compete with the unrealistic fantasy woman of her husband's novels. She begins to embody the outlandish descriptions, wearing wigs and costumes, laughing and singing and being so impetuous that everyone begins to think she is having a mental breakdown. This is the first episode that feels like a real story arc, moving from awkward comedy to a heartbreaking moment as she realizes she has gone too far, crying out "I'm not crazy , I'm just in love!"
The fifth vignette is my favorite. MacLaine plays a society bitch who is mortified to discover a rival will be wearing the same gown to the opera. The stakes escalate as their powerful husbands get involved, then their husbands' corporations as the two Dames flex their power, neither willing to budge. MacLaine is spectacular shifting gears between barking orders at her husband's employees, giving condescending lectures to the maid, looking absolutely fabulous, while plotting violent sabotage. It's lavish and campy and evil. So much fun!
The next episode clunks. MacLaine and Alan Arkin are lovers trying to negotiate a suicide pact but keep coming up with excuses to not go through with it. The dialog feels improv, and it all takes place in realtime in one room, like a one-act play or a TV skit. It's a case where the vignette before it is so lavish and fun this scene drags in comparison.
In the final piece, a shy housewife and a glamorous model friend meet for lunch and they are followed by a young man. As they separate the shy woman is thrilled the man follows her instead of her friend. She wanders home slowly hoping to make the moment last. The tone is innocent and bittersweet (but also a little creepy by today's standards of harassment and stalking - there is a twist at the end that lets us know he will not come back later, break into her house, and murder them all).
What's remarkable with Woman Times Seven is individual moments that stick with you long after the movie has gone. It never gels together as a whole, but I feel that's a problem with all vignette films. There are some interesting situations and characters who probably are not compelling enough for a whole movie, and maybe that's the idea. Most of these women are having small personal moments that define them. It's individual portraits done in a charming way, with a big talent Hollywood actress but with European flavor. We get to follow some pre-feminist characters we would not normally be allowed to see. They are fallible, self-contradictory, and immature.
While there are observations about the different sexual expectations of men and women, it's dismissive to say this is a movie about "adultery" or sexual romps, as if it is another slice of '60s Euro-erotica. Instead of cheesecake, many of the women are portrayed unflatteringly or for laughs. The viewer sees through the illusion they do not see themselves, and there-in lies the opportunity to say dozens of small truths through comedy: it *is* crazy to try to become someone's fantasy. The shyest person could crave dangerous attention. Love is NOT worth dying over, but also death is not the end of love....
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