From 20th Century Fox
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Of all my favorite films, this has one of the very strongest impacts. Of course, I just finishing watching it again minutes ago and found it to resonate as powerfully as it ever did.
There's no way I could do this review justice without telling some of my own story because the film parallels my own life. It is about a married man's coming out as a gay man. Leaving my own wife (and son) six years before the film's release was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I relive that experience every time I see this film. I consider it a most remarkable film for zeroing in on the real feelings and emotions and circumstances that concern married men who end straight marriages to pursue something they know they need to pursue.
(Coming out or exploring sexuality seems to have changed so much since I made my move and since this film. Today many married men appear to stay married while secretly seeing men on the side, usually in a clandestine manner. Personally, I think it's epidemic; the internet has fanned the flames and is responsible for as much of this movement as anything I can think of. These men will not call themselves gay; they usually say they are bicurious, an odd term, at best. At first glance it would seem they are curious about men and women. Isn't that what bi means? But why are they curious about women if they are married to one? So they must mean gaycurious, except that first syllable rubs them the wrong way. And then there's the curious part. If one has secretly taken part in numerous gay couplings, can he still rightfully call himself curious? Doesn't curious have a shelf life?)
But I digress.
Making Love was not well-received. It might have been too weighty for the eighties. It puts a disclaimer of sorts at the beginning of the film which gives evidence to the discomfort that must have existed at the studio. In my opinion it all but ruined the movie careers of the three leads and that is such an ugly shame. If this film were released today, the disclaimer would be gone, the public would eat it up (it would be considered so hip and psychologically exciting) and the three stars' phones would be ringing off the hook for new projects.
It is the story of three 30-somethings and at its center is Zack, played by Michael Ontkean. He is a doctor married for eight years to Claire, a TV executive, played by Kate Jackson. Despite everything looking to the contrary, Zack knows that something is up, that something is missing in his life despite his love for Claire. Like many of us in that position, there is confusion and denial and inappropriateness and awkwardness before coming to the inevitable conclusion that the marriage must end.
Claire goes through all the things that I know a wife to go through... denial, misunderstanding, misinformation, anger, threats and eviction, which is then replaced by a new need to stay married and we'll do the best we can to accept that the marriage is over and even friendship won't be possible. Most of the men who leave make a statement that they want to remain friends. Zack did not. He knows for their own well-being, they both must move on.
At the same time, gay seems to pop up all around Zack. Truth is it was always there, but he is seeing it for the first time in a way that he personalizes. Then his troubles really begin. He meets Bart, played by Harry Hamlin, a writer who smoulders with hot and sexy and a love 'em and leave 'em attitude that he's not about to forgo. Zack is the opposite; he wants a relationship with a man he can love and who will love him back. That is not Bart.
I didn't know it at the time of my own divorce that I wanted to go right into another relationship but 11 months after leaving my wife, I met my current partner. That was 36 years ago. That's what Zack wanted. It's all he really understood, bonding with someone you love. He was not comfortable prowling in the gay jungle. So Zack begins bonding with Bart but after a number of rough patches, their relationship is undone when, after a tender moment, Zack tells Bart he loves him. Don't let the door hit you in the ass. Bart had already let Zack in more than he had ever allowed anyone else, but love...?!?!
To this day I can recall the boos and the hisses and a few quick departures after the first kissing scene between the guys. I can't speak for the last seven years but in 2005 I recall witnessing the same ridiculous behavior from straight people over such scenes in another film. My take is that it is done very well in Making Love and it is easily YouTubed if interested. I dunno... maybe these scenes have something to do with the subsequent lacklustre movie careers of these two fine actors. If this had been a European film, would this entire paragraph even be necessary?
Bart: You happy?
Zack: Yeah, for the most part.
Bart: What about the other part?
I loved the part about how the wife knows. She may not know what she knows but she knows something is going on. Is this intuitive in women? My wife seemed bowled over by the news but the remaining reactions were pretty much the same as Claire's.
I have things in common with all the lead characters. Every one has a bit of me. Like Claire was willing to do, I wanted permission to play. I wanted to remain in the marriage and have a boys' night out once in a blue moon. Wisely, she said no. The moon would have always been blue. But like Zack, I had, as I said, a need to be in a permanent relationship. It would be foolish to deny that there wasn't some Bart lurking in me somewhere as well.
Bart: You don't get any points in playing by the rules.
Zack: Hey, I'm not gay. Just curious.
Ah, that word again. Well, luckily it didn't take Zack long to step over that curiosity and own it. Claire didn't work out. Bart didn't work out. But Zack got a good man who shared his vision. It would all work out.
One of the things I feel works so well is that both Claire and Bart, although they never meet, alternate narrating portions of the story by being onscreen against a white background and speaking with great emotion while moving the story along. Whoever came up with this should get a Cecil B. DeMille award for smart.
Making Love has three scenes that just pop my corn. When Zack finally decides to give Claire the talk she's been begging him for, there is an electricity in that room and in that acting that is just magical and so honest and real. What they each say is so right on that it gives me shivers. I remember my own night as well.
Claire: What about passion?
Zack: What about support?
Claire: What about betrayal?
It was no better for Zack with Bart, who wanted to stay closed off, cavalier, but only semi-enjoying his one-night stands. Zack wanted to open up as best he could. He had much to learn but Bart didn't want to teach. He just wanted to do. It was bad timing. At the end of Bart's time, one certainly gets the impression that he is second-guessing himself.
Bart discussing his relationship with his father was immensely touching and Hamlin just rocked delivering it. You show me a gay man who knew his father and I'll show you a story worth hearing. Both of these scenes and also the next one bring about my tears.
After a few years apart and long after Bart's departure, Zack attends a funeral across the country and runs into Claire. She invites him to her home to meet her new husband and son. Emotions are high between the once-marrieds but restraint is, too. She asks him if he is happy and he says he is. She says she is, too. We're happy for them and yet there seems a longing, particularly, of course, on Claire's part. She touches his face much in the same way that Streisand did to Redford at the end of The Way We Were and then the film ends.
It was not a perfect film, but it was damned close. Some scenes might have been unnecessary or dialogue a little stilted. I really never liked the title, feeling it gave a bit of a false read. I thought it would have been more effective calling it Saying Goodbye. But it was a brave film and told a honest story. I also think it's an important film... certainly on an aspect of gay life, coming out, relationships ending, complexities of love. It did have a breathtaking title song which was sung with perfection by Roberta Flack.
This is one of those favorites that should have been higher up in the list, I suppose. Right now it feels like it should be in the top five. I feel as though I've just had a wonderful visit with a great old friend.
I give nothing but praise to director Hiller for assembling a crack team and to Ontkean, Jackson and Hamlin for turning in performances I think they should be very proud of. Also loved seeing the great English actress, Wendy Hiller, in an attractive part as a cherished neighbor. I always smile when she says the words delicious anticipation. There are poignant, smart, incisive words written by A. Scott Berg (story) and Barry Sandler (screenplay).
There was a great reference to old movies several times in the film from all three of the main characters. I like that. It certainly reminded me of me. It also reminded me of happy times with my wife because she and I used to do it all the time.
Let's end with something pretty bloody silly. Take note that it was directed by Arthur Hiller and co-starred Arthur Hill and Wendy Hiller. That just cracks me up.
Here, have a look at the film:
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