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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Blake Edwards
Pioneer 01/86 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Harvey Fairchild seems to have it all he's a successful California architect with a luxurious house in Malibu, a lovely and supportive wife, and three loving grown children. But on the weekend he is to celebrate his sixtieth birthday, Harvey is undergoing something approaching a nervous breakdown.
Why is he suddenly moody, self-pitying, and frantic? Harvey is scared stiff over moving into the last stage of life. He worries about his body, which is falling apart. He tells his wife Gillian, the quintessential listener, that unlike Frank Lloyd Wright, he has failed to make any major contribution to the field of architecture.
Harvey sees his doctor and learns he is in perfect health; he calls upon a rich woman client, is seduced, and finds out he's impotent; he goes to confession and discovers the priest is an old friend he hasn't seen for forty years; he visits a fortune teller who gives him a big surprise.
Meanwhile, the Fairchild family assembles: Kate from New York City, who has boyfriend problems; Megan, who is pregnant and feeling cut off from her husband; and Josh, a television actor who has brought a young actress home with him. Harvey comes across as cranky and self-absorbed to his children; they cannot believe that their father is acting so childish. When Gillian explains to Josh that Harvey's just unglued, he responds, "But he has a picture-perfect life!"
That's Life! can be seen as a sequel to Blake Edwards's 10. Here is another successful male who sees his life as a muddle. Jack Lemmon struts and frets and squirms as Harvey Fairchild, a man whose aging forces him to face his own mortality. It is a bravura performance that is both humorous and exhausting.
But it is Julie Andrews as Gillian who steals this movie. Unbeknownst to any of her family, on Friday she had a biopsy taken to determine if a lump in her throat is malignant. The results won't be in until Monday. Her career as a singer hangs in the balance, and she is terrified of dying. But instead of dwelling on her self, Gillian soothes Harvey, serves as the Rock of Gibraltar to her needy daughters, and orchestrates the weekend festivities.
When Eleanor Roosevelt appeared on Edward R. Murrow's program This I Believe, he asked her about her beliefs. Her answer: "I think that I am pretty much of a fatalist. You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give." In That's Life!, Gillian is a saint who heroically gives all she's got to those she loves. Here is a woman who proves that being a nurturing wife and mother can be a noble calling.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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