Joan Tewkesbury’s Old Boyfriends

Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by Joan Tewkesbury.
With Talia Shire, Richard Jordan, Keith Carradine.
US, 1979, 35mm, color, 103 min.
Print source: Rialto Pictures

The Harvard Film Archive is one of the few cinemas invited to host a limited theatrical release of the newly restored Old Boyfriends, Joan Tewkesbury’s deceptively radical film which has been more talked about than screened over the last few decades. – Brittany Gravely

Perhaps most famous for writing Robert Altman’s multi-storied Nashville, Joan Tewkesbury directed her first feature film from a script originally written by Paul Schrader and his brother Leonard. Talia Shire stars as Dianne, a woman on a journey to find herself through revisiting her former loves—with unpredictable and complicated results. Despite initial indications of romantic comedy, the brightness transforms completely during Dianne’s complex, disturbing reunion with an old high school sweetheart—played by John Belushi with an intense mix of pathos, sleaze and rage. While the darker aspects of her own intentions also begin to emerge, neither her voiceover nor an old boyfriend’s private investigations fully explain her mission or behavior. As a feminist film or a “woman’s movie,” Old Boyfriendseven breaks those genres’ attempts at stereotype-shattering with its enigmatic, faulty heroine/anti-heroine who, instead of defiantly blazing a new trail, seems to travel in reckless retrograde; rather than bare her soul, she mirrors the actions and desires of her male counterparts. The “little game of transference” she is eventually accused of playing exposes the emptiness in the men’s lives, her own existence as a broken reflection, and ultimately, cinema’s tendency to cast women in identity-less roles only meant to support their male co-stars—leaving everyone with a void to fill. The illusion destroyed, she and any other survivors—onscreen or in the theater—can put the new parts and new narratives back together in a different way, should they choose to do so.

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