First Impressions : An Unmarried Woman (1978)

Paul Mazursky is becoming a screenwriter at the very top of my list. Okay, I’m going to give him the title of my favorite. When I had finished just a quarter of his film, An Unmarried Woman, I instantly felt a surge of excitement that only great screenwriting can do to me. He writes in a way that is utterly real and relaxed. I felt like I was peeking into the life of Erica Benton ( Jill Clayburgh) for a year.  Mazursky, who also directed, gives his film a polish but a realistic one, without that top coat. Erica’s Upper East Side apartment is cream colored Bohemian elegance at its finest, but doesn’t have that overdone “set design” feeling.  In fact everything about this film feels natural and that includes the subject.


You can see right from the beginning of the film that Erica is intelligent, sophisticated but not stuffy. She’s an independent woman who is married to a businessman for almost twenty years and works in a SOHO gallery part-time. What stuck me right away about their marriage is that they have a relationship full of communication and expression. They leave their bedroom door open morning and night, go jogging together, and talk to their daughter like a respected human being / friend. Now that is really something!


It looks like the kind of marriage couples strive for, at least for thirty minutes, before Mazursky hits Erica, and us the audience, with the reality that her husband is not only having an affair, but is in love with another woman, and is going to move in with her.  She is told after sitting with him at lunch. I love that the director chose for him to tell the truth as they are walking back to work, because of course that is when he would do it. I have found people just love to tell bad news while they are in motion. The less eye contact involved and movement the better. Hey, that way there is an inability or less of a chance of causing a scene.



After Erika finds herself unmarried, we too are wondering how she is going to handle it. I think it is very easy to say that we expect her to either cry for weeks or numb her pain by going on a series of dates the very next day. This is certainly what happens in most films no matter the decade. I thought that for a second, but then I remembered this a woman who is very much her own person and was never defined by her husband or daughter. She goes on to show that essence by hanging out with her fabulous girlfriends like she always did, and when they ask her about new men she says, ” If he tries to touch me, I’ll break his arms.” (There are many fierce lines like that!) Some may find that as the film goes on nothing “dramatic happens” for the next hour. Erika dates when she wants to, gets rid of her husband’s mouthwash when she finally is tired of looking at, and continues to support her girlfriends just by holding their hand when they are disillusioned on her bed.


The drama from beginning to end of  An Unmarried Woman is her life. We see her living and having daily journeys with the people that she finds in her life, and in this two hours experience we can feel like we are doing just that along with her.  – Miss. Classic Film 





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