John Cassavetes

Start Free Trial

Richard Combs

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Minnie and Moskowitz is a particularly frenetic switchback ride; a continual rebounding from Moskowitz' complaint (among many): 'It's mainly just being alone that irritates me,' to Minnie's multiple anxieties about involvement: 'Somebody light bores me, somebody heavy depresses me.' The journey turns up some rewarding perceptions, but is ultimately and unexpectedly disappointing, with the film attempting to combine wholehearted indulgence of its characters with some sly, philosophic definition, extracting from rambling duologues pointed turns of phrase placed in audible quotes (the director tempted to turn advocate and sum up for the jury), and allowing much obscure contrivance to loom behind moments that pretend to be unaffectedly true.

What has been most remarked and admired in Cassavetes' method is his incorporation of quasi-underground improvisation with conventional forms of story-telling. In a superficial way, Minnie and Moskowitz makes do with a minimum of structure, its story only existing very loosely to bring together the unlikeliest of lovers….

Cassavetes undercuts some of the romantic ground of his own film-making past. Locking the central pair into a kind of two-person, peripatetic encounter group, Minnie and Moskowitz seems far removed from the belief, implicit in the restless explorations of the youths in Shadows and, to a diminishing extent, of their middle-aged successors in Husbands, that life's possibilities can still be surprised by lightning raids. When Moskowitz declares: 'All you have to do to have a good time is be yourself,' the optimism is qualified by a later confession: 'I'm having trouble feeling what is right. I just don't feel as much any more.' He is not alone in his dilemma, and the general solution is simply to maintain the verbal pressure until feeling is bulldozed back into being. (p. 116)

Minnie in fact emerges as the credible centre of the film …, combining hints of genuine romanticism, the compulsive behaviour which provokes Seymour into complaining about Minnie's lack of timing, and even such dangerously loaded revelatory tics as her constant donning and doffing of sunglasses. But Moskowitz is continually left out on the limb of the blatant contrivance that underlies such apparently 'improvisatory' scenes as his encounter with a loudly articulate hobo [and] the predictable bolstering of Jewish humour which is imported from time to time from his family background…. More than any other director, Cassavetes depends on a generous response to the reality of his people; and Minnie and Moskowitz is finally a two-figure equation too unbalanced to be easily acceptable. (pp. 116-17)

Richard Combs, "'Minnie and Moskowitz'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1973 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 42, No. 2, Spring, 1973, pp. 116-17.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Richard Schickel


Pauline Kael