BetteBack Review March 7, 1991: Midler Is The Lone Bright Spot In ‘Scenes’

Kokomo Tribune
March 7, 1991


Coming on the heels of “Enemies: A Love Story,” this small-scale comedy set solely in a California mall must have sounded like a pleasant diversion for writerdirector Paul Mazursky. But then star Woody Allen – doing his first acting away from his own films –
requested that they shoot in New York (Woody hates L.A.), and so a mall had to be built on a New York soundstage. Maybe Mazursky should have taken this as an omen.

The picture is more innocuous than anything else. In the plus column, there’s the concept – the mall as an emblem for consumer society’s highest value: being able to rush around and buy beautiful things. People go there to look and purchase. It’s that simple. So it’s amusing to see Mazursky play against this shiny bny-and-sell ambience with the escalating woes of his two main characters.

Bette Midler and Allen play a woe-begotten “happily” married couple on the brink of their 16th wedding anniversary who take a jaunt together to a glitzy Rodeo Drive mall. Right there, in between the Guccis and the Smuccis, their marriage starts to come undone.

Mazursky knows Beverly Hills inside out. One of his best recent movies, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” mined a lode of rich humor in that milieu. It’s a world that most filmmakers condescend to – making the characters shrill, pampered and vulgar. Mazursky satirizes these people with something approaching love.

The problem is that his material is only worthy of a sketch, not a feature. The mall setting is a canny one: people often do reveal things in public places, where they feel both anonymous and protected.

In Mazursky’s version, it’s best-selling author-shrink Midler and sports lawyer Allen who dish up past indiscretions, nurse their shock, bicker, and then move to another mall where the fighting continues.

But Mazursky hasn’t fleshed out the characters. We know so little about these people that you might think that’s the point: that they’re shallow. In a role that plays like an anemic version of one of the schlemiels he normally writes for himself, Allen is at half mast.

Midler, though, is very good. It’s a non-singing role, one that doesn’t indulge her bawdy, campy quality. Her acting here is true. Most of the movie fades quickly, but you may retain an affection for Midler.

GRADE: 2stars

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