February 22, 1991
With major talents such as Bette Midler, Woody Allen and writer-director Paul Mazursky, one would expect “Scenes From A Mall” to beÂ much more than a minor diversion.
The teaming of Allen and Mazursky, two of our finest contemporary directors, seemed like a cinematic marriage made in heaven, but with the film have thundered across Tinsel Town for months. First, its release was abruptly pushed back from the holiday season, and then
The Hollywood Reporter, an industry publication known for cheers, not jeers, hinted that the film was blander than the decor of a turnpike rest siop.
Though better than a turnpike restaurant, it’s certainly not up to the level one would expect.
“Scenes From A Mall” is constructed like a two-character play, with Allen (in a rare acting-only assignment) playing Nick, a lawyer who arranges lucrative shoe endorsements for athletes, and Midler portraying Deborah, a psychologist-author who specialriages.
As the story begins, the upper middle-class couple are celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary and wondering why good fortune has smiled upon them.
They don’t have to wonder for long.
After wishing their over-indulged teen-age son and daughter a happy ski trip, the duo head to the Beverly Center – a chic, multi-leveled Los Angeles shopping emporium – to spend the day buying gifts for each other and picking up expensive sushi for an evening anniversary party.
During the shopping spree, Nick and Deborah learn why their relationship has lasted while all of their friends have endured divorces and re-marriages.
The trick, they soon discover, stems from the fact that they’ve been living a lie.
The 40-year-old husband admits to some one-night flings and a six-month affair with a much younger – and thinner – woman. He ended the sexually motivated relationship the previous afternoon, a fact that doesn’t stop Deborah from exploding.
In addition to being furious and emotionally devastated about the infidelity, Deborah seems equally angered for failing to recognize the problem signs to which she continually alerts patients. The middleaged woman is also guilt ridden, since she’s been carrying on with a brilliant 61-year-old therapist (Mazursky in a cameo), a father figure who has helped inspire some of her career accomplishments.
Once the secrets are out, “Scenes From A Mall” follows the pained couple as they struggle to come to terms with their situation while surrounded by strangers in the incongruous setting of a brightly lit mall trimmed with holiday decorations and filled with seasonal music. The script, by Mazursky and Roger L. Simon, provides no insights into the bland, excessively materialistic couple who eventuallyÂ accept their fates and head out of the shopping center hand-in-hand.
Even with his ponytail and trendy clothes, Allen seems as out of place in Los Angeles (a city he unmercifully ridiculed in “Annie Hall”) as a banker at biker rally. He provides a few genuine laughs, mostly when complaining about his sex life (during which he compares
himself and his wife to “two zombies”) and when threatening to slug a bothersome mime who refuses to ^fnn yÂ»oc*-oT-incT ^iiÂ»n
Midler is feisiy and fun, and she and Allen certainly resemble a totally believable couple.
Mazursky, whose sterling credits include “Moscow on the Hudson” and “An Unmarried Woman,” knows how to play his performers off of eachÂ other and wisely allows their professional interplay to compensate for the script’s shortcomings.
Like a cinemati c hors d’oeuvre, “Scenes From A Mall” may not be dramatically or comedically filling,-but it provides a few tasty moments thanks to delicious work by Midler and Allen.