[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]
Group Marriage serves up the Stephanie Rothman exploitation-flick mixture pretty much as before: half commitment, half indifference. But whereas I enjoyed her Student Nurses, this one left me cold. It’s partly the actors, I think. The student nurses and their beaux, however shallowly characterized, looked like fairly lively, attractive people. But who could identify with Group Marriage‘s crew of plastic Angelenos? The three men of the film’s group marriage are a jock lifeguard, a piggish young male chauvinist who markets glibly “sick” bumper stickers, and a spineless social worker who mouths jargon and wilts under the situation-comedy glare of his blowhard supervisor. The three women are not exactly charismatic, either, though one of them is endowed with a token knack for fixing car motors and another is represented, unconvincingly, as a lawyer. Rothman introduces us to the third in a blind-date–type scene that might have been directed by some arch-M.C.P.—Dean Martin, say. The bumper sticker entrepreneur has been led to expect a “dog”; when she walks in and he lays eyes on her breasts, he instantly goes ape. Bo-o-o-ing! She remains throughout the movie merely a pair of big tits. For all Rothman’s nods in the direction of women’s liberation, no attempt is made (if you want to get heavy about all this) to raise her consciousness, nor that of the pig kid; yet both are viewed as interesting, OK people.
What we do get is a collection of militant gestures. The complaisant motor-fixing woman, finally losing patience with her obnoxious boyfriend, aims a kick at his groin. (It lands, according to the venerable rules of farce, in the crotch of an innocent third party, of course—the social worker, who is attempting to intercede.) The lifeguard discovers that the person handling his divorce is none other than the (as Variety would say) femme lawyer of the group marriage, with whom he has fallen in love. They have a spat about wimzlib, and when he says petulantly of his ex-wife that she “at least knew when to shut up and put out,” the lawyer replies, very right-on, that she must have been his “ideal—a dumb cunt.” All very well, and so is the social worker’s gesture when, after submitting mutely to a scolding by his supervisor, the supervisor exits and the camera stays on Social Worker’s expressionless face … as a single upright Finger slowly enters the bottom of the frame and continues upward to end of shot.
In all fairness, you could say that the group gets its shit together, develops in the course of the story. The social worker, fired over the phone without just cause, refuses to be fired. The group, harassed by the community, decides to stand up and fight … all the way up to the—guess what—Supreme Court if necessary. Unfortunately, even when these people make all the right gestures, it still adds up to nothing. It’s all too careless and superficial. Rothman fans seeking the impress of the auteur on this two-man-and-one-woman-scripted, low-budget mishmash will have their work cut out for them. You can intuit her back there, now and then, amusing herself with little private jokes: an unseen late-late TV feature concerning the exploits of “Fifty-Foot Woman”; a boots-leather-and-whip respondent to an underground newspaper sex ad who introduces herself as Irma (after Genet’s Madame Irma in The Balcony?); a guest shot by comedian Milt Kamen (funny, too); a clumsily delivered Lauren Bacall quote from To Have and Have Not. And the final scene, it must be admitted, bears the genuine joyful Rothman stamp: a matriculation (the legalization of the group marriage, including a homosexual pairing) the ceremoniousness of which is undercut by a streak of anarchy. It’s not enough, though. I get the feeling she didn’t have as much fun making this one as she did on Student Nurses. Maybe—give Rothman the benefit of the doubt—all she needs is a graduation ceremony of her own: a bigger budget, more control, a few good actors.
Direction: Stephanie Rothman. Screenplay: Rothman, Richard Walter, Charles Swartz. Production: Swartz.
The Players: Victoria Vetri, Aimee Eccles, Solomon Sturges, Claudia Jennings, Zack Taylor, Jeffrey Pomerantz, Milt Kamen.
Copyright © 1974 Ken Eisler