BetteBack Review February 22, 1991: Wedded bliss pushed to the limit in ‘Scenes from a Mall’

Daily Herald Suburban Chicago
February 22, 1991


In “Scenes from a Mall,” Woody Allen becomes irate, hauls off and smacks a mime right in the chops And the poor guy never says a word.

It’s a major moment in the Woodman’s acting career. He actually appears to be versatile.

This marks the first time in 15 years (since “The Front”) that Allen has acted in a movie directed by someone who wasn’t him Now, thanks to director Paul Mazurksy, Allen’s image as a fumbling, nerdy New York intellectual been expanded into a fumbling, nerdy New York intellectual who can actually get mad and hit people.

“Scenes from a Mall” is not a wholly successful movie We get rehashed L A jokes – mostly celluar phone and personal beeper gags – that have been delivered with far greater satirical skill by Steve Martin‘s “L.A. Story ” Although relatively brief for a feature film, it stretches the subject matter far too thin After a while, we begin to think the main characters have been in this mall for most of their 16 years as man and wife.

But what an irresistible idea – Woody and Bette Midler as married professionals who go shopping for party goods and wind up buying a comic package of painful self-discovery and rekindled romance.

“Scenes from a Mall” isn’t exactly lowest common-denominator material.

It addresses mature viewers who’ve racked up a few years of experience in the marriage department The characters played by Woody and Bette, Nick and Deborah, have been married 16 years (plus one year of living together).

During the few hours they spend at an L A shopping mall (in reality the Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Conn ), Nick and Deborah delve into the foibles and self-deceptions that come with a too-comfortable middle-class relationship after such a long time.

Nick (Woody with a trendy red ponytail !) works as a high powered sports attorney who represents athletes in commercial deals Deborah, a psychologist, has just written a best seller about the secrets to keeping long-term marriages alive.

While doing some last-minute shopping for their big party, Nick and Deborah make the rounds of the mall, indulging in rather innocuous self-congratulations about how they’ve remained a happy, faithful couple while all those married people around them have become
divorce statistics.

Nick, however, exhibits an ever-soslight anxiousness through his words, foretelling the moment when he nonchalantly drops a hand grenade into the conversation.

He’s had an affair Actually, two afairs. Three, if you count the hooker in Dallas.

The abrupt announcement generates a predictable, slowly simmering explosive response from Deborah And Midler generating an expitbive response on the screen i.s like witnessing a nuclear chain reaction.

From thien on, we watch as these two deceptively once-happy people begin to dismantle their relationship, analyze their needs and wants, then vacillate between patching up their rocky boat or allowing it to sink. First it goes one way, then a surprise development sends it spiraling the other direction. A sudden twist of events saves it, only to have it be hurled backward by continuing revelations of impropriety and lies.

“Scenes from a Mall,” written by director Paul Maivursky and Roger L Simon, is driven by funny, unsettling truths about love and marriage (As a person married for 1G years, I can attest that many of Nick’s ambivalent observations about this most hallowed of human institutions ring with needling perception.)

The filmmakers approach Scenes from a Mall” much like a modern- day Greek tragedy in which the well off protagonists achieve wisdom through great suffering.

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