Michael Douglas: It’s My Turn
I am female, white, single, college-educated and I have a good job. I have three brothers, one sister and have had the same mother and father for thirty-two years. My family is Irish Catholic and middle-class.
This is simply to let you know that I am, well, average. There is nothing extraordinary about me. I enjoy playing a little tennis, skiing, watching The Rockford Files, hanging out, reading, drinking beer, sliding through rock & roll clubs and going to the movies. I love the movies. I’ve seen almost every film ever released, and I have been known to see three in one day. Or at least I used to.
It’s not that I have developed a particularly lofty attitude. I loved Jaws, Star Wars and every movie Clint Eastwood ever made. But I find life complicated. Most of the time I don’t get it. So I look to my friends, to books and films to help me sort it out a bit. But most of the films I have seen recently have let me down. I see Woody Allen’s films and think, “Who are these people? What are they talking about?” I see Kramer vs. Kramer and, I don’t care what anyone says, I simply don’t know any woman who would abandon her baby, no matter how trapped in a marriage she felt.
I feel even less connected to the so-called women’s films, and they’re supposed to be about people like me. Most of them start out okay, but sooner or later they go phony on you; they cheat, or worse, they go theoretical. In The Goodbye Girl, Paula goes after one of the ten greatest guys in the country, and what does she do when she finally lands him? She decorates their apartment. What is that about? And in An Unmarried Woman, why doesn’t Paul Mazursky show the scene after Erica decides not to go to Vermont? The scene where she goes back to her apartment, alone, and pigs out on Pepperidge Farm cookies. None of these films ring true to me. None of them have anything to do with life — not my life, at least.
None of them, that is, until It’s My Turn. Written by novelist Eleanor Bergstein (her first screenplay) and directed by Claudia Weill (Girlfriends), It’s My Turn is the story of a love triangle involving Kate Gunzinger (Jill Clayburgh), a brilliant mathematician faced with a difficult career decision and her father’s remarriage; her live-in boyfriend, Homer (Charles Grodin); and Ben Lewin (Michael Douglas), a baseball star whose career suddenly ended in his prime. Ben is also about to become Kate’s stepbrother. They meet when Kate flies to New York for the wedding and her big job interview.
I knew I would love this movie minutes after the lights went down. Kate has just finished a hard day teaching and is heading home, her Volvo laden with the oversize pillows she has bought for her new couch. She parks in the basement garage and studies the distance from the car to the elevator. She scoops up all the pillows (no easy task) and desperately makes her way to the elevator, almost losing control as her high-heeled shoes take off on their own, down the ramp leading to the elevator. But Kate makes it to the elevator, heaves a huge sigh and smiles. I smiled, too. After a hard day, you really do want to make only one trip to the elevator.
It’s My Turn is full of such wonderful moments-real moments. This movie is about me and the people I know.
Family relationships are central to It’s My Turn. There is a scene in which Kate, vulnerable and eager to make a good impression on her father and her new family, walks into Tavern on the Green tugging at her clothes and getting her sunglasses tangled up in her hair. Later, Kate’s father says he wants to dance with his favorite girl. Kate stands up as her father turns to his bride-to-be. I died for Kate. No matter how old you are, you always want to be your father’s favorite girl.
Kate’s parents had had a good marriage. Her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage have forced her to recognize that the home she always had doesn’t exist anymore. She knows she should be happy for her father, but she isn’t. She can’t go to his new apartment, because her father will be sleeping with another woman. Kate realizes that she has to make her own home, and that the one she has with Homer isn’t it.
It’s a relief to see a “women’s film” in which the woman is not a role model. Kate reminds me of my friends. She has been totally absorbed in her career and has gotten into a relationship that, more than anything else, accommodates it, one that gives her all the “space” she wanted. Homer is a good guy; he’s sweet and tries to be supportive. He makes her laugh. After years of hard work, Kate has finally gotten her professional life in order, and she suddenly sees that the emotional side of her life is impoverished. She doesn’t really want all that space after all. But Homer does.
Kate’s professional dilemma is the real thing as well. Should she take a prestigious job as head of the math department at Columbia University? She would be one of the most important women in her field. As she says to her father, “You’ll have a fancy daughter.” But she would have to give up her research. A tough choice. And there were many tough choices offscreen too.
Eight years ago, Claudia Weill, who was making documentaries, read a political novel called Advancing Paul Newman, which was about two girls in the Sixties. Weill contacted the author, Eleanor Bergstein, and asked if she would like to write a screenplay (Weill had Bergstein in mind to write Girlfriends). Bergstein, who had started her second novel, wasn’t interested.
“Eleanor is a knockout writer,” says Weill, sitting among the leftovers of an extravagant breakfast in her suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “Most screenplays you read are sketches, a scheme, an idea for a film. It’s My Turn is a story. All the characters are her creations.” Weill pauses, nibbles a strawberry and smiles. “I bugged Eleanor for years.” Nearly four years, to be precise.
“Finally,” says Bergstein, picking up the story over eggs Benedict at the Plaza Hotel in New York, “Claudia said, ‘Under what conditions would you write a script for me?’ I said, ‘It would have to be between books; I would have to get paid in advance; there would have to be a high probability of getting produced; and I would have to be involved in every stage of production from the casting to the lighting.'” And there was one more thing. Bergstein explained to Weill that if a scene didn’t work, she would write 100 different ones to get what was needed, but there were things her characters just would not do. Bergstein agreed that Weill would have final say as director, but she wanted to be the final arbiter on what her characters would not do. “I thought those were pretty impossible conditions,” says Bergstein.
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