All three segments are taken from the short stories of Grace Paley. The subjects of the stories do not deal with the monumental earthshattering events most films trade in. In the first, a woman with three children is left by her shiftless husband and begins to be courted by an old boyfriend who is now married. The second tells of a divorced woman's reaction to some unexpected revelations from her aged father. The third deals with a childless, middle-aged social worker who is more or less swept away by a young cabdriver, and soon finds herself pregnant. There may be the plot for a Neil Simon film in there somewhere, but no one in Hollywood would be likely to make a serious film with plots like these.
This is, in fact, a very different kind of filmmaking. Except for the last episode, there is little in the way of story in any of the three segments. Rather, each presents a character faced with certain problems and shows how she deals with those problems. The focus is on reactions and emotions rather than solutions. Again, excepting the third episode (to a degree), there are no real resolutions in the episodes. Each is reminiscent of a miniature portrait, except that the picture is moving, both in the most obvious sense and in the sense that we are seeing women in the process of changing.
Not surprisingly, Enormous Changes is an independent film rather than a Hollywood production. The script is co-written by the current high lama of American independent cinema, John Sayles. The direction is by three women, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, and Mirra Bank. Rather than taking one episode each, as might be expected, they teamed up, codirecting the various episodes. Apparently these three women work well together. There is a difference in tone between episodes, but each is internally smooth and consistently made. Since the budget was low, largely unexceptional photography can be forgiven. (There are one or two very good shots, though, leading one to wonder if the directors lavished special care on particularly important scenes or if they just occurred accidentally.)
The cast is quite good, and includes some fairly well-known performers, doubtless drawn by the good script. Ellen Barkin, familiar to many net readers from Buckaroo Banzai, but also one of the stars of Tender Mercies and Diner, plays the woman in the first episode. Kevin Bacon, also of Diner and the star of Footloose, plays the cabdriver in the third episode. There are also some familiar faces of character actors, and some performers better known for New York stage work, like Maria Tucci as the social worker. The performances are all fine, with Tucci and Barkin being especially good. A number of child performers are extremely natural and convincing, more than I expect from the kids in Explorers and The Goonies.
Other than technical problems nearly unavoidable on a low budget film, the biggest problem with Enormous Changes is that the three stories do not mesh together into a single entity. Of course, by their very nature, the plots cannot intertwine, but I would have preferred that the themes of the stories be more closely related, or that the tone of the whole production were more consistent. The use of multiple directors may have caused some of these problems. As a caveat to my criticism, I should mention that I vastly prefer novels to short stories, collected or individual, so I strongly suspect I am exhibiting a prejudice which may not be shared by others.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute is yet another film which has scant appeal for action/adventure/comedy audiences, but it should help momentarily silence the near-constant background noises made by lovers of serious films wailing and gnashing their teeth. The past month has actually provided many more films for those whose primary interests in films involve real stories about real people than for those who like to see people and things blown up. More than slightly unusual. To appease those of you who are getting tired of being condescended to just because you appreciate a well-placed explosive charge or the humor in a fart, I will next review either the new James Bond film or Second Blood (I insist on calling it that, and consider the producers to be old fuddyduddies for not doing the same), or maybe both. I must confess that, last Saturday afternoon, I too felt in the mood for watching some gratuitous violence. I was more than a little disappointed that I had to settle for Lost in America. As for those who are refreshed by the appearance of films like Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, or My First Wife, or Secret Places, or The Return of the Soldier, enjoy them while you can: here comes the summer.
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