…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
If there is anything that watching the 1970’s actress nominees has taught me, it’s definitely an appreciation for the late, great Jill Clayburgh. When we lost Clayburgh to cancer last year, we bid adieu to an actress who really knew what it was like to play characters in a very natural, unforced way – even characters who had their own extreme kinds of neuroses and oddities. In Starting Over, her follow-up nominated role to her brilliant turn in 1978’s An Unmarried Woman, Clayburgh still manages to turn on the charm and complete believability as a woman tentative about beginning a relationship with yet another newly divorced man starting out on his own after the dissolve of his married life.
In a role that reminds you that yes, indeed, he was once handsome, Burt Reynolds portrays Paul Potter, a man down on his luck after his songwriter/singer wife, Jessica (Candice Bergin, in a very humorous nominated supporting turn) takes up in an affair with his boss and embarks on a dubious music career. Through his brother and sister-in-law, he is introduced to shy schoolteacher Marilyn Holmberg (Clayburgh). The two have a rather funny, shaky start, and both of them are not the most successful with relationships, but predictably, they grow fond of one another and begin dating. Though they are soon talking moving in and buying couches together, both of them still have their hang-ups and issues – namely, Jessica isn’t completely out of the picture for Paul, and Marilyn is far too untrusting of most men who wander into her life. Clayburgh truly has a firm grasp on her character in this film and ably matches – when she doesn’t eclipse – Reynolds scene by scene. Marilyn is placed in some awkwardly funny situations, and Clayburgh milks it for all its worth (look for a particularly amusing scene where she screams at Reynolds about not being a one-night-stand kind of girl). While it’s not as heavily dramatic as An Unmarried Woman and she didn’t manage to snag the Oscar over Sally Fields in a much stronger film (Norma Rae), Clayburgh’s nomination was deserved and continued to establish her worth as one of the solid, capable actresses working in the 1970’s through the early ’80’s.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula, Starting Over is light, frothy fare when all is said and done, but it’s also an endearing sort of film that had me giggling throughout, to be honest… as most James L. Brooks-written films do. The male/female divorce counseling sessions are quite humorous, Burt Reynolds handles his leading man role well, and Candice Bergin garners a few laughs with her tone-deaf warbling. If you watch this film at all, however, I think you’ll agree that it’s yet another good showcase of Jill Clayburgh’s versatility and talent.