The Personals

Director: Peter Markle
Bill Schoppert, Karen Landry, Paul Eiding

Even in these modern times of ours, where parts of life are much easier than they have ever been in the time that man has walked on this planet, there are some things about life that can make us bewildered or driven downright crazy. Finding a job (and keeping it) is one such thing. And finding a place to live and subsequently moving into it is another stressful task. However, there is one other often stressful step in life that much of us have indulged in, and that is finding a mate, a partner to spend the rest of your life with. In many ways, it is much harder now to find a mate than it has ever been. Why? Well, I once saw on television a matchmaking expert who explained that in many years past, most people found their mate through their church, or that they married a cousin. How times have changed - now there are many people that do not attend religious services, and while there are plenty of places around the world where you can still marry your cousin (including my country), romantic cousin relationships are now considerably frowned upon by society as a whole. With those avenues unavailable to most people today, what can people do in order to find a romantic partner? Well, there is always the bar scene, but I think there are many people out there (like me) who don't consider watering holes to be all that romantic. In the newspapers, Ann Landers and Abby always were blabbing that doing volunteer work is a great way to meet new people. But I've done my share of volunteer work, and I can tell you that the people that I met there often weren't all that friendly. Maybe it was because at those volunteer places, everyone was focused on doing work, and had little free time to get to know anyone else at these places.

There is one other way in this modern day age of ours that one can try in order to find a romantic partner, one that has been around for a considerable number of decades and has evolved during all that time. And that avenue is personal ads. This avenue certainly has its advantages. If you place a personal ad in some kind of medium, chances are that it will be read by a great number of people, increasing your chances of finding Mr. or Miss Right. As well, you can read the ads of many people at once, and in just a few minutes get to know a great deal of potential partners. On the other hand, there are certainly disadvantages to personal ads. One is that people can lie or be deceitful in making personal ads or responding to them. I certainly found this out when years ago I tried the personal ad market to find someone, using the Internet to do so. One ad I placed on a local web site got a quick response from someone. When I responded, I got another quick response from the woman proposing we go to a local outdoor spot for skinny dipping. I knew I was getting a spam robot response, because it was the dead of winter when all this was happening. Another time I went to an international web site, and I got a response from someone in Asia, someone who wasn't a robot. We exchanged a few e-mails, and soon she mentioned that her father just died and she had to go to Africa to manage his estate. That alone put up a big red flag, but I cautiously continued responding to this person, and a few days later I got an e-mail supposedly from her lawyer, saying they needed my (financial) help settling the estate. This new red flag confirmed what I was earlier suspecting, that the person writing the e-mails was a con artist. So I ended the correspondence by saying I knew this was a scam, and I was contacting Interpol. I never did, though I sure the person (or people) who wrote those e-mails were sweating for a while.

Since it's been a while since those incidents happened, and that I eventually realized that a bachelor lifestyle has a lot of advantages that you can't have if you are in a relationship and that I could be happy even if I end up living alone, I can look back on those incidents and laugh a little. Especially since I was The Personalssmart enough not to be ultimately conned. In fact, looking at the whole personal ad scene, one can see that it's not only ripe for humor, but can also have some genuine drama attached to it. I first learned this years ago when I saw the movie The Personals, taping it off late night television when I was a teenager. I really enjoyed the movie, but since then it's has more or less disappeared - no more television airings, no release on DVD or Blu-ray. But recently I stumbled upon a VHS copy of it in a local thrift store, which delighted me, since I could review it and share its sweet and funny nature with this web site's audience and hopefully convince people to give it a whirl - that is, if they can find it. The events of The Personals take place in and around Minneapolis. At the beginning of the movie, we meet a middle-aged man named Bill (Schoppert, The Mighty Ducks) who is devastated because he has just got a divorce from his wife. Eventually, Bill slowly starts looking for a new romantic partner, first by taking up roller skating at the local park, but also places an advertisement in the personal section of the local newspaper. He gets a number of responses to his advertisement, but the first woman he decides to meet (played by Vicki Dakil) proves to be too aggressive for his tastes. But Bill tries again, and after sifting through the other responses he got, he decides to meet a woman named Adrienne (Landry, Heartbreak Hotel). To his delight, things click with her. She proves to be a kind as well as compatible woman, and as the days go by, Bill starts to think that he has found the right woman. But then Adrienne reveals a secret that threatens to destroy not only the relationship, but also Bill's hopes that he could have a happy future with someone to love by his side.

When I mentioned that The Personals was both sweet and funny in the paragraph above, you may have gotten the idea that the movie is essentially an exercise in cinematic fluff. Yes, there are a number of humorous moments over the course of the movie, but there are also a number of moments when things are treated with dead seriousness. This fact may make the movie sound schizophrenic, but the two extremes manage to mix together to make a world more believable than one found in your average major Hollywood studio romantic movie. Let me start my explanation of this by looking at some of the serious moments of the movie. Early in the movie, we get a scene where Bill is told by his wife that she not only has been having an affair, but that she feels that she and Bill should get a divorce. Does Bill get into a stunned stupor and numbly accept this a la Ashton Kutcher? No - he breaks down and cries. Later on in the movie after the divorce, when Bill thinks he has found true love with Adrienne but then she tells him her secret, does he sputter and mangle his words with shock a la Hugh Grant? No - he takes the news a lot better than you would think. He does see some potential problems ahead knowing what he does now, but right now he is so in love with Adrienne that he decides it is worth taking a chance to see if the relationship can work. As it turns out, the problem does eventually rear its ugly head in the climactic sequence, and what happens I won't say except that all of the participants act in a very serious and believable manner. The words "serious" and believable" also apply to how things are for Bill at the very end of the movie, a status that does not reek of Hollywood formula at all. Although this ending may not please those who are romantics at heart, I personally saw the ending as a kind of triumph for Bill. He managed to prove something to himself, and the future does promise that he will win at the very end.

As you can see from those examples, the dramatic parts of The Personals are more often than not unlike what's found in a major Hollywood studio movie. They are realistic, more like what would happen in real life. For that matter, the humorous moments in the movie are also more believable than those found in mainstream romantic comedies. Take the part of the movie when Bill places his personal ad in the newspaper. He gets a number of responses from interested women... as well as from one interested fellow male. It's a brief but funny gag, something that I could see happening in real life. I could also believe the disastrous date Bill has with the first woman he chooses from the correspondence. The woman proves to be too aggressive, but Bill is too meek and polite to simply throw in the towel and walk away. I found this scene very funny, because it reminded me of my own experiences with various people that I found uncomfortable to be with, and like Bill I didn't know how to get away from the party in question. When Bill meets Adrienne and they go out on their first real date after meeting at a party, there is still some initial awkwardness between them, but also genuine attraction between them. Seeing them stumble on their words (as well as stumble on their roller skates) result in some genuine chuckles. We've all wanted to impress someone in real life, and we've all made mistakes while doing so in real life. The humor in The Personals is not only true to life, it is also gentle in nature. Never once does the movie make its various characters look bad or humiliates them. The woman that Bill meets during that awful first date may be too aggressive, but the movie at the same time shows us that she's well-meaning and does have something to offer. She just needs some training to properly present herself to others.

The Personals was the first movie directed by Peter Markle, who later on made his way to the Hollywood big leagues, both in television and feature films. He not only directed this movie, but wrote the screenplay as well. As you have seen from the previous paragraphs, his screenplay shows a greater understanding of what makes a convincing character than with most other movies. But he also shows this understanding when it comes to the actors in the cast. While the cast may completely consist of unfamiliar names and faces, they all do a wonderful job. They don't look like movie stars for one thing. As the lead character, actor Bill Schoppert is slightly balding, wears glasses, and doesn't have the chiselled body of a Hollywood hunk. But that's how many men look like in real life. Famous people in these roles would not only be distracting, it would make the characters less convincing. It says something that Markle was able to take these no-names and have them deliver great performances. Markle's direction shows talent in other areas of the movie as well. For the most part, the movie moves in a breezy manner, leaving no room for cynicism or other negative emotions. The only real problems with the film come from a few sequences where the story comes to a halt for several minutes when the characters do stuff like roller skate, mingle at a party, or attend an outdoor concert. Fortunately, there are only a few such sequences, and despite them The Personals works both with its drama and with its humor. It's a movie that really deserves a DVD and a Blu-ray release, though the Nicolette Larson songs on the soundtrack (which might need negotiating and money to relicense) as well as its present obscurity probably explain why this may never happen. If you still own a VCR, this is a movie well worth hunting down.

(Posted July 18, 2017)

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See also: Breezy, Lonely Hearts, My First Mister