BetteBack February 21, 1991: Midler Marvelous, “Mall” Boring

Paul Mazursky is a master of intimacy. He has a keen eye for the everyday glitches in human relations h i p s, a nd a s h a rp wit for storytelling.

As a writer, “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955) was tough and realistic. His send-up of the ’60s, “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,” captured hash brownies and a freaky Peter Sellers.

As a director, his debut film “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” is now considered a classic look at marriage and sex, and “Harry and Tonto” was a poignant portrait of aging.

His most recent works, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Enemies, A Love Story,” were rich tapestries of specific lifestyles.

But his latest movie, “Scenes From a Mall,” is like a glass of cheap, domestic champagne. Made from chemicals and not grapes, it leaves a bitter aftertaste, and you wonder why you bothered in the first place.

The movie starts with promise. Afterall, Mazursky is directing and Bette Midler and Woody Allen star. But nothing really happens in the short, 87-minute’movie, except that in the space of half a day, a marriage takes a tumble or two.

Deborah and Nick Fifer are celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary by shipping their two children off to a ski weekend and throwing a sushi dinner party for their friends.

Deborah (Midler) is a best-selling author and highly successful psychologist; Nick (Allen) is a sports lawyer who rakes in mi l l ions by p a r l a y i ng sneaker endorsements.

They live an antiseptic life in the Hollywood Hills, slaves to their beepers and jobs. All is lovey-dovey u n t il Nick confesses an a f f a i r. She explodes, the party is off, Ihe marriage is off.

Then they make up. The party is on, the marriage is on. She confesses an a f f a i r. He hyperventilates, the party is off, the marriage is off.

With each parting of the way, the sushi is dumped and fresh sushi has to be purchased. If one adds the anniversary presents they pick up for each other, the caviar and champagne, new outfits and the margarita stop, the trip to the mall was a pricey adventure.

There are mild laughs throughout, and Midler is marvelous as the angry wife from hell. She and Allen bounce along well together, and their performance together is entertaining. But his whiney wimp does wear very quickly.

There’s a very dark feel to this movie. These are not likable or even interesting people. If there is a tragedy, it is perhaps that their worst problem is boredom.

The Touchstone Pictures release was produced and directed by Mazursky, with Pato G u z m an and P a t r i ck M c C o r m i ck as coproducers. Ma z u r s ky co-wrote with Roger L. Simon. The movie is rated R.

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