★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
I go onto Netflix and add weird things to my queue fairly regularly. Usually, by the time these films actually arrive at my doorstep, I have forgotten when or why I put them on there to begin with. Such was the case with this movie, but luckily, it turned out to be one of those oddball picks I mysteriously chose that actually turned out pretty interesting. Within the first few minutes of the film, I saw the title card for director Robert Altman fade up, which allayed a multitude of my concerns. For the next two hours, I was strangely intrigued.
The movie stars Shelly Duvall (good subject for a Whatever Became of… book – I’m looking at you Mr. Lamparski!) as Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux, and Sissy Spacek as Mildred “Pinkie” Rose. Pinkie comes from Texas to work at a convalescence home in California where Millie, also originally from Texas, has been working for some time. The strange, almost child-like waif, Pinkie, is immediately drawn to the outspoken and vivacious Millie, who seems more a legend in her on mind than reality would prove true. As the film progresses, the two move in together as roommates; their landlords are a married couple, Willie (Janice Rule) and Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier). Willie is a quiet, gypsy-esque mural painter, and Edgar is a former stunt double for country/western film stars. The couple also own a bar/shooting ranger/dirtbike track that the two heroines regularly frequent. The strange relationship between the three women becomes more intertwined as a series of bizarre events take place towards the latter half of the film. That about sums it up, and no I didn’t really leave anything out.
This is a very stream of conscious film; in fact, it was conceived through a series of dreams that Robert Altman had over the course of several weeks. Supposedly, the film was also shot largely without a script, and with Altman making many last minute scene and story changes on the fly. Yet, somehow, this antithesis of what a mainstream movie should be and look like, holds your attention the entire two hour running time. It’s almost more of a visual essay, a plotless saga, than a normal movie; however, all the same, it’s not quite that either, as there is a story there beneath the layers. Coupled with wonderful performances all around, and hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, this movie is actually really worth any self-professed cinephile’s time. It’s very unique, and something that you almost certainly wouldn’t have a chance to see on the screen today with the “safe bets” modern Hollywood likes to take.
Bottom line: If you aren’t afraid to take a chance on a film that will challenge commonly held story and viewing moors, then I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking movie by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman.