Joan Micklin Silver David Denby - Essay

David Denby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The romance at the center of Joan Micklin Silver's Head Over Heels is … rather murky, and that's a disaster for this very small movie, which gives little evidence of wanting to do anything more than tell us some intimate truths about its leading characters….

Joan Micklin Silver, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, has been faithful to the bleak mood of Ann Beattie's novel [Chilly Scenes of Winter], a book nearly punitive in its insistence that life is joyless, harsh, mediocre. The young people in this movie—the generation of the seventies—have been stripped of cultural identity, anger, rebellious instincts. These enervated children of the middle class lack the energy of the urban poor—not even pop culture speaks to them. Yet the grayness, the vacuumy deadness of both book and movie, seems to strike some people as the truth about life. My own feeling is that the acceptance of mediocrity as "the truth" gives way, much too easily, to a peculiarly despairing kind of sentimentality. In the Beattie-Silver view, which, despite the fancy bleakness, is not very different from the underlying message of soap opera, we are all saved if we have "someone to love." (p. 85)

Silver might have redeemed the dismalness of Beattie's themes if she had a richer sense of film texture or some sort of visual flair. She controls actors well, wringing a few laughs out of the general depressiveness, but she allows only one thing to happen at a time, one point to be made—and then she moves on. What I want is a little more life going on around the characters, a feeling of place, a little play and observation and color—something besides that quietly desperate man chasing that cipher of a girl. (pp. 85-6)

David Denby, "Love in a Cold Climate," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1979 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 12, No. 43, November 5, 1979, pp. 85-6.∗