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3 Women: The Criterion Collection

Robert Altman is the Howard Hawks of the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls generation. Covering war films ( M.A.S.H.), westerns (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), films noir (The Long Goodbye), musicals (Nashville), horror (3 Women), comedies (The Player), and numerous stops in-between, Altman has made films in nearly every genre and has managed to put his stamp on all of his work. But — unlike Hawks — Altman's imprint is so obvious and overwhelming that his genre-hopping tendencies to get lost under his Auteur stamp. Altman's 1977 film 3 Women is another one of his genre-hops, and one of the last good films he made before a ten-year decline that saw him lost after a decade of excess. Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) is a shy, waifish girl who finds work in a solarium and is immediately attracted to fellow coworker Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a chatty space cadet forever obsessing over making recipes she's learned from magazines. When Millie's roommate moves out, Pinky takes the opportunity to get even closer to her idol. Though Pinky may think Millie has her stuff together, in reality she's treated poorly by most of the people around her, which Millie either brushes off or is totally unaware of. But Pinky is fascinated (as Eve was of Margo Channing), spending her time alone, snooping around, and reading Millie's journal. And when Millie is around, Pinky tries to appease her and fit in, but she never understands how to act around adults. The third woman is Willie Hart (Janice Rule), a mostly mute and pregnant character who spends her time painting violent murals, while her husband is the talkative, heavy drinking, philandering, would-be cowboy Edgar (Robert Fortier). After a night in which Millie sleeps with Edgar, Pinky makes a suicidal jump into their apartment complex's pool and ends up in the hospital. Though Millie had grown tired of Pinky's weirdness, the accident makes Millie take after Pinky — even going so far as to find Pinky's parents and quitting her job. But when Pinky wakes up from her coma, roles are reversed when Pinky becomes the vixen Millie's always wanted to be and attracts the people Millie has always tried to impress. And from there the film takes another turn that unites the three women after a tragedy and a comeuppance that one wants to wonder if David Lynch saw before making Mulholland Dr. — though both owe something to Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Paced in a deliberately dreamlike quality, with Altman using his patented long, lackadaisical takes that drift around and pick up on whatever conversation seems to be happening around the camera, 3 Women is a tonal piece that is more interesting than great. The film's reputation has grown (perhaps out of proportion) due to its unavailability — this is its first release on home video — but there is much to recommend. Shelley Duvall creates little middle ground with her acting techniques, but she simply "is" on screen; one of those performers who may not have much range but is never fake, while Spacek does a masterful job of conveying both the virginal Pinky and her later incarnation as a vixen. And though the ending may not make a lot of narrative sense, the dreamlike nature of the piece makes it satisfying in and of itself. The Criterion Collection presents 3 Women in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and DD 1.0 audio. Extras include an interesting commentary by Altman, two trailers, two TV posts, and still galleries. Keep-case.

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