Erica (Jill Clayburgh) and Martin (Michael Murphy) live and labor in New York City. He's a stockbroker and she works at an art gallery. They have a precocious fifteen-year-old daughter Patti (Lisa Lucas). Every week Erica meets with a group of women friends. They are all in their middle-thirties, fond of letting down their hair and sharing their experiences. She's the only one still happily married. Elaine (Kelly Bishop) is divorced and disgusted with men; Jeannete (Linda Miller) is having an affair with a nineteen-year-old boy; and Sue (Pat Quinn) seems to be tolerating rather than enjoying her marriage.
One day, completely out of the blue, Martin breaks down on the street and starts crying. He tells his wife that he has been having an affair for over a year with a younger woman. In a matter of minutes, Erica's security is shattered. She is cut loose from her past. At first she responds with anger, then with nausea. She has become an unmarried woman.
Paul Mazursky has shown himself to be one of America's most sentimental film directors. And that is not to be taken in the derogatory sense. One deeply cares for the lead characters in his movies the dislocated old man in Harry and Tonto or the aspiring young actor in Next Stop, Greenwich Village. Mazursky moves us because he is a good storyteller who doesn't allow anything to get in the way of our empathy for his richly developed and idiosyncratic characters.
Divorce marks the passage of an individual into another country. The group gives Erica the steady support she needs for the journey. Elaine proves to be especially helpful since she has been through separation herself. Erica's bumpy road as an unmarried woman begins with hostility toward all men. She responds in anger when her doctor makes a pass and is enraged by the quick sexual come-on of a blind date. She tries to unload her mixed bag of feelings to her therapist (Penelope Russianoff).
As time wears on, Erica gives in to her sexual needs and spends an evening with Charlie (Cliff Gorman), a fellow who has been trying to win her affection during visits to the art gallery. The sex is good but something is missing. She finds that something in Saul (Alan Bates), a respected artist who lives and works in Soho. He is tender, funny, attractive, and most important, unpossessive.
Mazursky has a way with actors. Jill Clayburgh's performances in the film Gable and Lombard and the TV movie "Hustling" and "Griffin and Phoenix" have already demonstrated her skills as an actress. Under Mazursky's direction, she is a marvel. Her portrayal of Erica is a tour de force.
There are three other stellar performances here as well. Lisa Lucas one of America's most accomplished teenage actresses, especially in the TV dramas "The House Without a Christmas Tree," "The Easter Promise," and "Addie and the King of Hearts" authentically captures the confusion, loss, and anger of a child of divorced parents. Alan Bates is totally credible and appealing as the artist who treats Erica with respect. And Michael Murphy makes Martin into something more than another middle-aged victim of male menopause. The director also uses New York City exceptionally well for mood and atmosphere.
Finally, and best of all, Mazursky manages to come up with two vivid scenes which, perhaps better than any images in recent cinema, capture the inner essence of a woman's journey from dependent security to independent self-confidence. Early in the movie, Erica rises from lovemaking with Martin and, alone in the apartment, dances a ballet through the various rooms. The scene conveys her ability to be giddy and playful because she feels secure.
In the last scene in the film, Erica has moved beyond this state of being. Saul is getting ready to go to Vermont for the summer. They are standing outside his Soho loft guiding a huge painting down to the outside of the building from one of his windows. She has made a decision not to go with him to the country but instead to move into her own apartment and continue working at the gallery. Once Erica has hold of the large painting, Saul climbs into his car, announces the work of art is for her, and drives off. Erica starts home, negotiating the cumbersome token of his love down the city streets. Now she is no longer a giddy ballerina but a high wire artist who has found her balance. And we can't help but rejoice with her and for her!
DVD features include Audio Commentary with Paul Mazursky, Director and Jill Clayburgh, Star; and Theatrical and Product Trailers.