Well, that was absolutely nothing like what I expected. Here’s what I expected: a complex and realistic character study of three women with a complicated friendship. Like, I dunno, Interiors crossed with Frances Ha. Here’s what the film is: a fever dream of shifting and merging identities, sometimes violently, always awkwardly, and often disturbingly. I was fascinated.
Apparently the idea for the film came to Altman in a dream, which I totally believe, because this is very unlike any of the other Altman films I’ve seen. Sissy Spacek is a shy, wet-behind-the-ears young girl who gets a job at a spa and quickly idolizes a confident and chatty Shelley Duvall who shows her the ropes. But Duvall’s confidence is somewhat misplaced, as becomes painfully obvious when she has lunch over at the doctor’s building and thinks she’s flirting wildly with everyone when they’re really ignoring her completely. Spacek is enthralled, though, follows Duvall everywhere, and quickly manages to become her roommate. Then they meet the third woman, a nearly silent Janice Rule, the very pregnant wife of Duvall’s landlord who spends all her time painting bizarre primitive art on every concrete surface she can find.
The film definitely pulls some themes from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, especially in the way Spacek and Duvall’s character seem to merge and swap identities, and feed off each other’s psyches in an almost vampiric way. Rule’s character is more of an enigma, but kind of an oddly grounding one, until the surreal and disturbing final scenes.
I tell you, I’ve seen seven or eight Altman films before, and nothing would’ve prepared me for this. Finding out a filmmaker you thought you had a handle on has a whole other side to him is kind of amazing. I will say I was more intrigued and incredulous at the film than truly loving it, but I’ve found it difficult to get out of my head and am definitely planning to rewatch it before too long. And delve further into Altman’s filmography because apparently there are still surprises in there!
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Robert Altman
starring Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how 3 Women entered my chart:
3 Women > Being There
3 Women > The Cure
3 Women < The Mummy
3 Women < [REC]
3 Women < Prometheus
3 Women < Rocky
3 Women < 21 Grams
3 Women < Homicidal
3 Women < The Decline of Western Civilization
3 Women < Topsy-Turvy
3 Women < Little Children
3 Women > Lone Star
Final #924 out of 2701 films on my chart (75%)
It is now my #4 Robert Altman film, my #1 Sissy Spacek film (but Badlands is too low), my #2 Shelley Duvall film, my #13 Feminist Film, my #32 New Hollywood film, and my #11 film of 1977.
3 Women was recommended by Joseph Brown, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.
A few more screenshots…