Scenes from a Mall

The teaming up of Woody Allen, Bette Midler and director Paul Mazursky would lead you to expect an embarrassment of riches. But this marital comedy is only an embarrassment, a sad case of great talents colliding rather than meshing. The contrived screenplay, by Mazursky and Roger L. Simon – who collaborated impressively on Enemies, A Love Story – is the major problem. Except for a few opening scenes to establish Allen and Midler as Nick and Deborah Fifer, a sports lawyer and his psychologist wife (the author of a best-selling book on marriage) living well in L.A., the film takes place in a shopping mall where the couple have gone to pick up presents and food for their sixteenth-anniversary bash, to be held that evening.

First Nick confesses to an infidelity with a younger woman; then Deborah says she's been cheating with an older man (Mazursky plays the lover in a cameo). They argue, make up, then start bickering again. In between bouts they eat sushi, drink margaritas, dance, buy new clothes and even screw on the floor of a mall movie theater during a sparsely attended matinee of Salaam Bombay!

Mostly, Allen and Midler work hard but in vain to make us care about these two conspicuous consumers. At first there is comic shock value in seeing the Woodman sport a ponytail and flashy clothes and spout pro-L.A. and anti-Manhattan sentiments. But the joke quickly wears thin. Midler tries gamely to mute her brassy style to suit Allen's trademarked reticence, but the twosome – unflatteringly photographed by Fred Murphy – don't bring out the best in each other. Those anticipating a meeting on a par with W.C. Fields and Mae West in the classic My Little Chickadee are doomed to disappointment. Scenes is no Chickadee; it merely lays an egg.

From The Archives Issue 600: March 21, 1991
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