It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Happy Birthday, Wanda June" is an unhappy movie debut for the work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who In the matter of screenwriting turns out to be his own worst friend. He locks us almost literally into-one set for two hours and gives us unwieldy gobs of his artificially mannered dialog, until we cry enough! Enough! Just as he is finally working up to his message
The message isn't much: A kind of desperate plea by woman against man's violence, left unresolved by the final freeze-frame of Rod Steiger looking frustrated. Vonnegut's messages have seldom been in his dialog, but in the attitudes and universes he creates. He should have stayed faithful to his own mad genius. By spelling things out, all he demonstrates is that he can spell.
His story involves the return after eight years of a famous and grizzled machismo figure, played by Steiger. He has been lost in the South American rainforest, brain-drained by Indians and so on. Meanwhile, his wife (Susannah York) tries to raise their son and to handle the attentions of the pacifist doctor who lives next door, and the militarist vacuum-cleaner salesman who loves her.
Steiger comes home, tries to reestablish a male dictatorship in the household, busts the doctor's violin and puts the salesman to work cooking him breakfast. The son is caught in what I guess they're still calling a personality conflict, the wife rejects her husband's reliance on violence, there is a confrontation over a rifle, and somewhere we're left slogging through the fallout of "Virginia Woolf," "Little Murders," and the short, happy life of Mrs. Francis Macomber.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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