When A Man Loves A Woman

A wife's alcoholism threatens her marriage and family. There's at least one crummy TV movie a week that fits that description. But stick with this surprisingly gripping love story set in San Francisco. In addition to superior performances from Meg Ryan as the wife and Andy Garcia as her husband, the film messes intriguingly with a melodramatic formula. A few home truths actually cut through the soap bubbles and the thick therapy jargon.

At first, Alice Green (Ryan) hides her drinking from her pilot husband, Michael (Garcia), and their two young daughters. Alice, a school guidance counselor, prides herself on keeping up appearances. To Michael, she's still the sexy, fun-loving girl he married. It takes him a while to recognize that Alice needs at least a quart of vodka a day to function. But when her drinking starts altering her personality (she angrily slaps one of her children) and endangering her life (she falls off a boat and nearly drowns), even Alice knows it's time for rehab.

Director Luis Mandoki (yes, the perp behind the rotten remake of Born Yesterday) cannily avoids the clinical details of withdrawal, done to death in films from The Lost Weekend to Clean and Sober. And the script, by Ron Bass (Rain Man) and Al Franken (yes, the SNL comedian), admirably refuses to pinpoint a cause for Alice's disease. Ryan is devastating; she reveals Alice's inner turmoil without makeup tricks or Oscar-begging histrionics. The audience, like Michael, is on the outside looking in. Garcia, in superb form, lets us see the confusion of a take-charge man who has to admit his own weakness to save his marriage. Even when the film threatens to sink in Hollywood gloss, Ryan and Garcia achieve a rare and remarkable poignancy.

From The Archives Issue 488: December 4, 1986