Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Summer Wishes" falls short

Cleveland Press November 22, 1973

It is almost impossible for performers such as Joanne Woodward and Martin Balsam to make a bad movie. Considering their performances as the major contribution in the film, then "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" is half good. Also it is half bad, with that half consisting of a script that never quite gets unmuddled, direction that has nowhere to go and photography that is dismayingly muddy.

The script is by Stewart Stern who wrote "Rachel, Rachel" in which Miss Woodward was so impressive. The direction is by Gilbert Cates who directed "I Never Sang For My Father." Altogether that's a pretty big package of sensitivity. No one was able to get it all together this time.

Miss Woodward portrays Rita Walden, a woman full of self pity who mentally blames herself for all of her problems, but outwardly blames others.

It is a portrait of a self-centered woman going to pieces, the kind of role in which Miss Woodward specializes.

She has a mother (Sylvia Sydney) who is shrill and complaining, a married daughter who is shrill and complaining (blood will tell), a homosexual son who has run away to Europe.

Her husband (Martin Balsam) is a patient man. He puts up with her coolness and occasionally makes the mistake of trying to absorb one of her many complaints with his sense of humor.

Life for this woman is never-ending round of appointments, of do-good work to fill an empty life. It all comes to a head with the death of her mother and there follows a series of fantasy dream sequences as she tries to escape into a happier past.

Running from her ghosts,she and her husband go to London. At this point a movie that was floundering goes to pieces. Sight-seeing is one thing, and talking out your problems is something else, and the two are at odds on the screen.

The movie works in individual moments, but otherwise doesn't hang together. There are very good moments, bits of revealing conversation. Her shopping for gifts while in London is accompanied by a remembered remark by her mother: "You pay your way in life as if every relationship is a tollbooth."

Through it all Miss Woodward registers the inward pain and uncertainty. The emotions are written on her face, indicated in her gestures but never in a heavy handed way. Her recoil from her husband's touch is slight, subtle. Her discomfort at a recollection may be indicated with nothing more than a momentary bite of her lip.

The movie jumps to a conclusion finally but like everything else in the film it is suddenly just there, just another moment.

Director Cates has handled the moments well, but hasn't been able to put them together smoothly. A bad musical score telegraphs every flashback, every fantasy. Some of these sequences look as though they were photographed through a dirty lens. But much of the rest the film has the same look.

The whole thing is rather jerky. The sensitivity is in the performances but seldom anywhere else.