Domestic readjustments

Recycling ideas a decade out of date

Published: Apr 28 2021, 01:01:am

Tuesday, March 29, 1988.

A NEW LIFE. Music by Joseph Turrin. Written and directed by Alan Alda. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier’s warning "some suggestive scenes, occasional very coarse language."
STOP ME IF YOU'VE heard this one before. There's this guy, see, a loud-mouthed, workaholic jerk, and he gets divorced.
    His name's Steve Giardino (Alan Alda). He's a floor trader at New York's American Exchange and, after 26 years of benign neglect, his wife Jackie (Ann-Margret) decides that she might as well be alone on her own.
    So, Steve and Jackie go their separate ways. He finds a younger woman, self-reliant medical doctor Kay Hutton (Veronica Hamel).
    She finds a younger man: attentive, laid-back sculptor Jim "Doc" Page (John Shea). This is the story of a divorced couple who start A New Life.
    Sounds familiar, you say? Reminds you of that 1979 Burt Reynolds movie, Starting Over?
    Then again, it's sort of like any one of a dozen urban relationship pictures. They were big a few years back and, goodness knows, Alan Alda’s latest attempt at writing, acting and directing is not what you'd call original.
    Come to think of it, Alda has always been a little behind the times. As the star of television's MASH, he spent years stuck in the 1950s.
    The year of Starting Over, he made his debut as a feature-film screenwriter. He also played the title role in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, a political drama very much in the style of the 1960s.
    His directorial debut feature, The Four Seasons (1981), had a similar 1960s mindset. It wasn't until he aimed a picture at the youth market — the 1986 comedy Sweet Liberty — that he actually found his way into the 1970s.
    Poor Alda. Though set in the present, his A New Life plays nearly a decade out of date. A formula mid-life domestic readjustment feature, it contains the kind of broad characters and obvious plotting appropriate to a made-for-TV movie.
    Though his picture contains a standout performance from Ann-Margret, a big-screen professional who brings real depth to her middle-aged-single role, it is really little more than a sitcom recycling of obvious situations in obvious ways.
    Once more, Alda offers his fans a movie more interested in setting up one-liners than creating credible aduIt characters. His A New Life is as insubstantial as it is inconsequential.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: With a new movie (director Michael Lembeck’s Queen Bees) scheduled for release on June 11, 2021, Ann-Margret can take pride in a career that’s been anything but insubstantial. I find particularly fascinating the ways in which her personal story — that of the immigrant girl who lives the American dream — compares with that of her contemporary, Jane Fonda, the Hollywood princess in rebellion against her own entitlement. They made their screen debuts within a year of one another — Fonda in 1960’s Tall Story, Ann-Margret in Pocket Full of Miracles (1961) — with each playing a variation on the all-American girl. Though Fonda, the daughter of iconic actor Henry Fonda, found more work more quickly, Ann-Margret broke through first, with a singing, dancing starring role in the 1963 musical Bye Bye Birdie.     
    Fonda’s popular breakthrough came in 1965, playing the title role in Cat Ballou, a western-comedy role that had originally been offered to Ann-Margret. Their paths crossed in a different way at the 1972 Academy Awards, where Fonda won her first best actress Oscar (for her work in Alan J. Pakula’s urban drama Klute). Ann-Margret was nominated in the supporting actress category for Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge (which was among the first major American movies shot in Vancouver).
    Finally, there was the matter of the Vietnam war. Fonda famously opposed it. In 1971, she went on tour with The FTA Show, entertainment for the troops that burlesqued the official USO concerts. Ann-Margret’s resumé, by contrast, features her sincere participation in the government-sponsored USO shows Bob Hope took to Southeast Asia in 1966 and 1969. A performer not known for making political statements, she appreciated her success and gave back in ways that were considered appropriate. Ann-Marget turns 80 today (April 28).

See also: Ann-Margret features already in the Reeling Back archive include director Ken Russell’s 1975 rock opera Tommy, Hal Needham’s comedy western The Villain (1979) and Kenny Ortega’s musical Newsies (1992).