It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence” gives us a woman whose influences only gradually reveal themselves. And as they do, they give us insights not only into one specific, brilliantly created, woman but into some of the problems of surviving in a society where very few people are fully liberated. The woman is Mabel Longhetti, wife and mother and (in some very small, shy and faraway corner) herself. Her husband, Nick, is the head of a construction gang and a gregarious type with an expansive nature; he’s likely to bring his whole crew home at 7 a.m. for a spaghetti dinner.
Mabel isn’t gregarious, but, she tries. She tries too hard, and that’s her problem. She desperately wants to please her husband, and when they’re alone, she does. They get along, and they do love one another. But when people are around, she gets a little wacky. The mannerisms, the strange personal little ways she has of expressing herself, get out of scale. She’s not sure how to act, because she’s not sure who she is. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” she tells Nick, and he tells her to be herself. But who is that?
The film takes place before and after six months she spends in a mental institution. Her husband has her committed, reluctantly, after she begins to crack up. There have been some indications that she’s in trouble. She behaves strangely when some neighbor children are brought over to stay for a while with her own, and the neighbor is afraid to leave his kids because of the way she’s acting. But what, exactly, is “strange”?
Well she’s insecure, hyper, manic. She laughs too much and pushes too hard. She’s not good with other people around. So her husband does what he thinks he has to do and commits her. But what about him? What kind of a guy is he? It’s here that “A Woman Under the Influence” gets to be terribly complicated, involved and fascinating -- a revelation. Because if Mabel is disturbed, then so is he. He’s as crazy as she is, maybe more so. But because he’s a man and has channels for his craziness, he stays at home and she gets sent away.