Lovers and other Strangers, based on the play by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor
In the age of Me-too, it seems that this film is really dated, at least at times- for instance in the scenes where the male chauvinist Johnny is asking his wife to admit he is the boss, he will be a gentle one, but he needs her to admit his position of superiority, which is so preposterous and passé.
Admittedly, this is a comedy, made in 1970- which seems centuries ago- and many of the behaviors and attitudes- including the aforementioned one- are satirized and the feature has no intention of promoting the image of the man as macho and towering over the house, it is just that some of the jokes seem like they would have no echo today, except perhaps in lands where they still apply the sharia- Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states.
In the first few moments, Mike Vecchio is expressing doubts about the upcoming marriage to his lover, Susan Henderson, reminding her that when they discussed marital plans, the arrangement was that he can pull back whenever and if he feels like it, which is what he thinks now.
Hal Henderson is the father of the bride to be, but he is the last man on earth to preach about the benefits of marriage, given that he has a long standing affair with a woman, an old friend actually, who often has fits of crying and depression and his wife, Bernice Henderson keeps pushing her husband to comfort this woman, for he is so good at it- what a tragicomic suggestion!
Mike has a brother, Ritchie Vecchio, married to Joan Vecchio- played by a young Diane Keaton, who alas seems to have smoked some pot before entering the set and not with beneficial effects for her acting.
This marriage is not working, they should have read the classic by John Gottman- The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work and learn about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: contempt, stonewalling, Defensiveness and criticism.
John Gottman is the ultimate, quintessential expert, able to prognosticate with an accuracy of about ninety per cent and more, which couples will stay together and which will not, after only a few minutes of listening to them.
Ritchie has a clash with his and Mike’s parents- Bea and Frank Vecchio, the latter is the famous actor in The Godfather, who made cannoli in the house, before they all went to „the mattresses.
Alas, Bea and Frank are not role models, the perfect image of a happy marriage, as we will learn, although they make efforts to stay together, it looks like they should have considered alternatives, given that sex is terrible for the woman, who thinks this is the way it must be and the husband has fantasies with another partner.
Indeed, it is again tragicomic when Bea confesses to her daughter-in-law and tries to convince her that she should stay with her man, even if he cheats, because they all do, Frank did and she left the house for a few days, but since she equaled sexual intercourse with an unpleasant act, she thought in her simplicity that it was the other woman who is suffering, now that her husband is sleeping with her.
Susan Henderson has a sister, Wilma, married to Johnny and in this relationship, there are other – and some of the same- troubles, visible as the night progresses, the man watches Ingrid Bergman in a classic film and would not budge when his spouse tries to become intimate.
Furthermore, she tries to caress, incite, arouse, cajole the careless, insensitive man who says he wants to go to bed, he is tired and then she protests that he said this a while ago and their plan of having sex three times a week would be ruined if this keeps happening and he has this attitude.
In the first few moments of this dispute, the husband has a condemnable, but at least calm attitude, which is changing as they face the mentioned Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Marital Relations, and after postponing and saying that he owes her one, and then changing to two, when he is reminded of the recent failure, they get into outright accusations and open conflict.
He is Criticizing her and she responds in kind, then they move to Contempt, for he is aggrandizing his past performances- before she came his functioning was outstanding- and she refers to what happens- or more exactly fails to happen- recently and he is using Defensiveness, saying it all started when he met her and she is making him angry.
There is the last Horseman, Stonewalling, as he keeps placing his head on the pillow to sleep, whenever he is confronted with something he does not like, even if the wife keeps trying, she is sensitive, warm, embracing him…until they have a sort of peace, if not enough to convince audiences that marriage is the key to the gates of Earthly Heaven, it looks like the contrary is true.
Mike has a friend, Jerry, who is a bachelor and therefore we have a chance to see what this category has as entertainment, happiness, but the situations are mostly ridiculous and sometimes funny-as Jerry is trying to have sex with the maid of honor at the upcoming wedding- if it takes place.
This woman is called Susan and in the first place Jerry is reluctant to meet- in his exaggerated view, there are ten thousand women waiting for him to date and bed them- but once they meet, a weird game of cat and mouse ensues, with the educated woman quoting Classics, The Prophet and others and showing interest in meaningful, spiritual, deep relationship and not in something superficial, passing, as a one night stand: “you are me and I am you and we are one”
This quote becomes a leit motif, a mantra, but also a repeated joke, especially when the rapprochement is progressing, they are about to have sex, but Susan keeps changing the location: “let us go to my room, let us better return to yours, and then back and forth…”
“Highly amusing, a handful of the cast are truly exceptional” said TIME
“Funny, real and touching” was the opinion of Playboy