Monday, September 02, 2013

(photo credit to

Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffmann were rarely in agreement about female performances--for example, compare their reviews of performances by Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, or Jane Fonda--see them on Keaton, Streep, and Fonda). But they were among the few champions in national print of Debra Winger’s performance in 1990’s little-seen Everybody Wins.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pauline Kael

"I became ill last January, just as I was about to praise Everybody Wins, in which Debra Winger went further with the kind of liquid acting that made audiences at An Officer and a Gentleman stare at her and smile with pleasure. Practically no one saw her performance in Everybody Wins, or even heard of it, because the thriller, directed by Karel Reisz from a surprisingly cool, quirky Arthur Miller screenplay, was opened without press screenings and was generally taken for a dud. It disappeared almost instantly and hasn't returned, but it's available on tape, and I wouldn't want to let the year close without urging you to see it, and shouting that, despite The Sheltering Sky, Winger is one of the two or three finest (and most fearless) screen actresses we've got. . . .

"The movie is set in a (fictional) small, decaying industrial city in New England. (The exteriors were shot in Norwich, Connecticut.) A prominent doctor has been murdered, and his young nephew has been convicted for the crime. Winger plays a local girl, a seductive sometime hooker named Angela Crispini, who persuades a private investigator, an outsider (played by Nick Nolte), to look into the [murder]. She claims that the youth is innocent and that “everybody” knows who the real killer is. The movie asks, What’s going on? Why have the town officials conspired to convict the wrong man?

"The mood-swinging Angela is the chief mystery: Can anything she says be believed? She's always acting things out on a stage of her own creation. She's out of control, and Winger makes her irrationality passionately real. Winger's Angela is soft and boneless and appealingly whory, with an automatic pretty smile. She wears slips and has breakdowns; she's all femininity and formlessness--she can become anything at any time. (The director seems to let the actress set the film's rhythms.) Winger warms up her voice: it's less husky than usual--more maternal. Her sexuality is never hyped; she doesn't have to prove it--it's just there. Angela switches of personality seem natural and defensive; she gets haughty and temperamental whenever she's challenged.

"You can see why the investigator . . . becomes her lover and her patsy. He's the literal-minded male who wants to know what's going on. She's maddening: she behaves in contradictory ways, and he can't pin her down. She keeps him off balance and in a courting position. . . . Tom is tenderhearted and inexperienced--a lug. Drawn into an erotically charged game, he always catches on to Angela's emotional manipulations too late. Angela is as anxious and deceitful and bewildering as Marilyn Monroe. Arthur Miller has lived in Connecticut a long time and has carried Monroe in his head a long time. Writing this script, he put together his exterior life and his interior life—his An Enemy of the People conscioiusness and his Marilyn Monroe problem—and they fuse in a way that cures him of rectitude. This may be the least prosecutorial writing he’s ever done. When Tom asks Angela what her interest in the case is and she rattles on, saying things like “Everything’s just one step away from a dream,” she’s avoiding his question, but her likably odd cadences tell us that she’s also answering it.

"For a brief period in the late sities and early seventies, moviegoeres seemed willing to be guided through a movie by their intuition and imagination; if this slyly funny picture about the spread of corruption had been released then, it might have been considered a minor classic. It’s satirical in an odd, hallucinatory way. There are fresh (often startling scenes, with Frank Military as the kid who’s fallling apart in prison and becoming suicidal; with Kathleen Wilhoite as a stoned gir whose mentor (Will Patton) knuckles her on the head when she tries to join a conversation, and then comforts her . . . . Except for the innocent kid, practically every male character we meet has had carnal relations with Angela. By the end, we know why she has to save him: she's tormented by her sense of justice. It may be her only torment that she can do anything about. The picture is a classically constructed detective story, with a mysterious woman who lures the fact-oriented man into something that ramifies in every direction and is way over his head. (But he's dogged.) Maybe the only reason Winger's performance hasn't been hallowed is that it hasn't been seen."

Pauline Kael
December 17, 1980

Stanley Kauffmann

“But the film is worth noting--remembering--for one element. The character of the hooker, named Angela Crispini, is written with insight and color. In the past Miller has shown empathy for women on the edge of neurosis and worse, tugged there by a sexual power that they almost dislike yet are proud of possessing, women who are like revolving ballroom colored lights--what you see is what they happen to be at the moment. (Schizophrenia seems too precise a word.) These women--the role that Marilyn Monroe played in The Misfits, the role based on Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall, stand quite apart from most of Miller's other characters, who are like leftovers from '30s allegiances. . . . [LO, but don't have whole review to know what it is. I think I LO'd some when I copied this.]

"Angela Crispini is not interchangeable with these Monroe roles, but she is sister to them. She brims with enthusiasm, hurts, fears, deceptions, demands, sexual hunger and sexual hip-cracking--pathetic even while she is duplicitous. She overshadows Nolte, who gives one of his stolid, side-of-beef performances in an unrealized part. [Nolte's under-rated here.] Angela belongs in a cogent screenplay. Here she is figuratively a vivid portrait hanging in a gallery, not a character in a drama good enough for her.

"This is all the more pitiful because of Debra Winger's excellent acting, mercurial yet strong. No doubt with Reisz's help [Kauffmann gives credit to directors], she has explored the woman intuitively and has found all the physical and vocal means--the teasing, pragmatic madness--to bring Angela to life. Winger does fine work, but it seems to be happening somewhere in space, devoid of the film that ought to house it.

"Oh, the number of performances like that--fine work in footling films: Peter O'Toole in Brotherly Love, Richard Burton in Staircase, Fredric March in The Young Doctors, Jane Fonda in The Morning After, Jessica Lange in Music Box to name a random few that come first to mind. The critic is in a cleft stick about such films. It's hard to urge any except those specifically interested in the art of acting (who once were the majority of the theatergoing public) to see a poor film just for a performance in it. Still, what a waste.

"Winger will also have the added bitterness, I'm sure, of seeing her performance ignored when prize-giving time comes around."

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, March 5, 1990
Well, if I had the whole review

David Thomson

Whereas both Kael and Kauffmann thought Arthur Miller had created a compelling character in Angela Crispini, drawn, they felt, from Marilyln Monroe, David Thomson, in A Biographical Dictionary of Film in 1993, found the movie unplayable.
In the early 80’s, Thomson thought Winger one of the “. . . . “ of American actresses, but . . . an early admirer of Winger’s “bravura tough prettiness” and “ . . . “ [I should find another quote] in Urban Cowboy, Cannery Row, and Terms of Endearment, but thought her career declined after that. Her “liquid acting” in Everybody Wins as praised by Kael was seen by Thomson as “lack of technique”.

"There are mixed feelings over Everybody Wins (90, Karel Reisz.) Pauline Kael believed Winger was extraordinary in it, playing a schizophrenic, swooping from sexuality to coldness. I felt the picture was incoherent and foolish, and another sign of the actress’s lack of technique. No player could be blamed for Everybody Wins. The script was the root of the problem. But why had she accepted the part? And how did she seem so undirected?"

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film, 3rd Ed.
Page 815

That undirected-ness