A film review by Jon Newman
Copyright 1991 Jon Newman
Director Henry Jaglom's new film EATING has the voyeuristic attraction of spying on a group therapy session. On the surface, the scene of this film is a large birthday party in (where else?) southern California, where 38 women gather to celebrate the birthdays of Helene (turning 40), Kate (30) and Sadie (50). However, much of the film centers on the deeply personal revelations of these women concerning their problems with food, men and body image. As the film progresses, we see more and more how the various problems of these apparently independent and successful women express themselves in an obsession with food, thinness and dieting.
One of these women is Martine, a French television documentary maker, played convincingly by Nelly Allard. Martine is ostensibly producing a documentary about Southern California lifestyles, but her work actually centers on women and food. This "play within a play" mechanism is contrived, but it produces some of the most memorable moments of the film. EATING is sprinkled with short cutaways and collages from this woman's videocamera, as the women at the party describe the formative moments of their relationship with food.
I will not try to list all of the notable performances in this film, since every one of the actresses, even the nameless bit players, has her moment of revelation, many in front of Martine's videocamera. Director Henry Jaglom obviously establishes a rapport with these women, and the portrayals come across as absolutely authentic. I will however, single out two performances. Gwen Welles plays the neurotic and unsympathetic Sophie, whose jealousy of her successful (and, above all, thin) friends leads her to viciously attack and manipulate her closest friend Helene. And Frances Bergen (Candice's mother) plays Helene's mother, perhaps the only character who is not obsessed with food, and who tries to confront various other characters with their neurotic behavior.
One memorable scene: The cutting of the birthday cake, where slices of birthday cake are passed endlessly around the room as if they were time bombs.
My favorite line: "I guess I'm still looking for a man who will excite me as much as a baked potato."
While EATING does center on the topic of eating disorders, it is completely unlike those preachy television docudramas which isolate specific problems in an otherwise Leave it To Beaver world. EATING presents eating disorders with both humor and pathos, as a symptom of the problems women face in affluent Western society.
I strongly recommend EATING to anyone who can put up with "talky" films. In my opinion, this may be the best film to hit the arthouse scene since JESUS OF MONTREAL.
This is my first contribution to r.a.m.r; I hope you like it!