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Old Boyfriends
(1979)

Director: Joan Tewkesbury 
Cast:
Talia Shire, Richard Jordan, Keith Carradine, John Belushi


I am almost positive that I share one certain aspect with most of the readers of this web site other than a love for offbeat movies, that being a feeling of accomplishing much in the lifetime so far that's been given. Those who don't at least wish that they have. But a feeling that I feel that all of us have deep inside us is a feeling of regret, a feeling that certain episodes in our lives were on a whole negative, and you wish that those episodes did not happen. Some of these episodes are various experiences with environment. For example, I have mentioned several times in past reviews that in my younger days I went to South Korea to teach English. But I don't think I mentioned that there were enough bad things about that experience that if I had known before going what I was getting myself into - from bad weather to unfriendly people - I would never have gone in the first place. Though I assume all of us have had bad experiences with environment, I think that many of our regrets have to do with experiences with other people. I certainly have a lot of experiences with various people where my past actions with them have left me wishing I said or did different things with these people, such as the fact that I didn't always stand up for myself when confronted with unkind people. But there are certain other people in my life that I look back upon and wish that I did or said different things than I did at the time. Those people, of course, are family. I think all of us have had uncomfortable times with family members, treating these people in a way at the time that seemed right, but as the months and years passed, we realize we acted in a crude manner. And the regret we feel will stay with us until our dying day.

Though family members are often connected with the regrets that regularly pop into our minds, there's another kind of relationship that has given most of us episodes of regret in our minds. That particular relationship happens to be relationships with significant others. In other words, girlfriends or boyfriends we were once connected with. I think it's safe to say that these past failed relationships often give ourselves more regret than with the mistakes we have made with family members. I think that's because family is blood and more forgiving. Romantic relationships are a whole different level, giving us passionate feelings that feel stronger at times than family ties. When such a relationship ends, it can hurt deeply, and make you wonder if it could have worked out much better. I know that myself, since I have been in several such relationships that ended. At the time the break-ups hurt, and got me thinking long and hard as to if things could have been different. But all the thinking I did about the relationships eventually made me realize that it was for the best. I realized one woman that was in my life was extremely clingy, and probably would have driven me nuts had we cemented the relationship. Another woman was talking marriage not long after we first connected, which looks pretty freaky looking back. Other women didn't seem to fully appreciate my kind gestures towards them. But what really made me realize that it was for the best that none of these relationships worked out was that if I were to seal a relationship with any of these women, I would not only have to move out of my cheap and convenient apartment and work more hours at a job, I would probably have no time available to watch movies and review them on this web site. And what I have got out of this web site for more than eighteen years has been very fulfilling

Still, I can't help but wonder what life would have been like had any of my past relationships progressed beyond the point where they actually ended. Though I am happy in my life now, I sometimes can't help but wonder if the seemingly slim chance I could be happy in a relationship could Old Boyfriendshave come true. That's why when I found a copy of Old Boyfriends - concerning someone who looks back on past romantic relationships - I thought I could relate to it. But that's not the only thing about the movie that interested me. Not only did this unknown movie have John Belushi in its cast, the movie promised to be more serious than comic. Before watching the movie, I wanted to know what motivated Belushi to be in it, so I went to my local library to do research. The library didn't have a copy of Bob Woodward's famous Belushi biography, Wired, but they did have Belushi: A Biography, written by Belushi's widow. Flipping through the book, it didn't really explain Belushi's motivations for signing on - he simply played a few pinball games with approaching director Joan Tewkesbury (who saw potential in Belushi for a serious role), and after the pinball games, immediately said he would do the movie. The biography did mention later that Belushi, just before the release of Old Boyfriends, was being swamped with scripts that basically asked him to reprieve the kind of character he played in Animal House, so maybe months earlier he had an idea that Animal House might typecast him when it would be released. But I have my own theory: Belushi throughout his career seemed to like to experiment occasionally with different kinds of roles. He acted in a romantic comedy (Continental Divide), sang the blues as one of The Blues Brothers, and was cast against type as a meek person in his last movie, Neighbors.

As you've probably guessed by now, in Old Boyfriends, Belushi plays an old boyfriend of the movie's principle female character, who is played by Talia Shire. Shire plays Diane Cruise, a woman who, despite being a psychologist, has recently split up with her husband. Still hurting from the break-up, she decides to look up her old boyfriends in an attempt to possibly learn what went wrong. Belushi is Eric, her high school boyfriend who was a real jerk then and now. Richard Jordan (Timebomb) is Jeff, the man she was with in college that she almost married, and is still in love with her. Looking up a third boyfriend from her past, she finds he is dead, but meets his unstable brother Wayne (Keith Carradine, Idaho Transfer). Now that I've got the plot out of the way, I can now get to answering the pressing question most of you have in your minds: How is the movie's photography and lighting? Just kidding - I know you are curious about how Belushi comes across. Well, I'm happy to report that Belushi does well in a more serious than usual role. There does seem to have been some effort by the filmmakers to not make Belushi's character completely serious, maybe being afraid of alienating Belushi's fans. His character gets to sing three songs, and his final scene ends on a somewhat slapstick note. Also, his character is somewhat of a jokey fellow, but much more subdued than the usual comic persona he acted on TV and other movies. While his character is kind of a pig, it's a pretty believable performance. It's not over the top, for one thing, and it will remind you of various real life pigs you have come across in your own lifetime. From this performance, it's clear that Belushi did have talent beyond comedy, and could have pulled off more serious roles had his life not been tragically cut short. In fact, I think he could have been a great villain with the right screenplay and director.

The good performances in Old Boyfriends don't stop with just Belushi. The rest of the supporting cast also liven things up with their appearances. Buck Henry (Candy) has an effective one scene cameo as a private detective who has seen it all before and knows what to do so well that the scene ends on an amusing note. John Houseman's (The Paper Chase) cameo, on the other hand, is devastating, playing a doctor who rips into the character of Diane. Richard Jordan and Keith Carradine also do well in their scenes with the character of Diane. Jordan gives his character an eagerness when he spots opportunity to hook up again with his former love, but also is careful not to overreact when Diane starts to act funny. He is confused, but he tries to work it out. The standout performance in the movie, however, is Carradine's. His character is mentally ill, but Carradine shows it more with body language and silence rather than words. It's subtle, but it feels more realistic than ranting and raving. In fact, the scenes with Carradine are the best scenes in the movie. Paired up with Shire's character, the two actors manage to generate some real chemistry. There is a sweetness as these two characters - both of whom are clearly feeling weak and not that confident about themselves - interact and get to know each other better. But at the same time, there is also a sickening feeling that starts to build. With both characters definitely in need of some serious professional help, I started to think, "This relationship can not end well at all." I won't say what happens in the end, but I will say what happens packs a real punch. As I said earlier, these scenes were the best in the movie, and I think that if the movie had forgotten about looking up old boyfriends and stuck with the characters played by Shire and Carradine, the movie would have ended up being a lot better than it was.

As you might have guessed by that previous sentence, for the most part I didn't find most of Old Boyfriends to be of much interest. I could go on for a while about various nitpicks, like the often television-like direction or a sometimes very inappropriate musical score, but I probably would have managed to live with all the nitpicks if it weren't for the movie's one big problem. That problem is the main character Talia Shire plays, Diane Cruise. For starters, this character is quite unsympathetic and often annoying. I know it's eventually revealed that she doesn't have all her marbles, but seeing her mistreat her former boyfriends as well as Carradine's character in various ways is very off-putting. Also, her constantly changing attitude, from saying "I love you" one minute and in the next scene acting completely different really wore my patience. This constantly changing of her mind also made it very hard to figure out what's going on in her mind. She doesn't seem to be learning anything in her journey, and remains a blank slate right to the end. It should come as no surprise that all three men she tangles with each don't recognize her at first glance - there's no real character here. The movie could have worked with a greatly troubled character as long as there was some part of her we could identify with and see on a regular basis, but instead she is just a jumble of emotions and impulses. Shire tries her best in this role, but the writing ultimately defeats her efforts, and is the main reason why Old Boyfriends does not work. Other than that, there is not much more to say, though if you were indeed interested in the photography and lighting I cannot give a fair assessment, since the video label that put out the tape I watched not only used an unremastered print, but recorded the tape at SLP speed.

(Posted October 11, 2016)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Breezy, My First Mister, That Championship Season

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