the Whole Damn Thing
- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jim Washington
s that Professor Minerva McGonagall doing the Mrs. Robinson all over Spain with a younger man? Yow.
It may surprise the current generation of film fans that Dame Maggie Smith was once just a dame, and a pretty hot one at that. In “Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing,” Smith plays a repressed lone traveler with a secret who hooks up with a psychologically fragile young man played by Timothy Bottoms (who, in fairness, was rather lovely himself back then) on a bus tour of Espana. Bottoms’ character, Walter Elbertson, has been sent abroad on a bicycle tour by his intellectual father, who doesn’t know what to do with a son who is borderline catatonic much of the time and doesn’t seem to have any goals.
Walter ditches the bicycle tour early on. (As a cyclist, I don’t blame him – what passed for touring bikes in the early ‘70s look like they’d put you in traction after a day or two.) Instead, he impulsively hops onto a tour bus where the only open seat is next to Miss Fisher (Smith), a hot librarian type. Their relationship is rather awkward at first (and actually remains so for most of the movie), but they warm up to each other after a series of misadventures in which Miss Fisher gets locked in a privy, comes into possession of Walter’s underpants, and gets hit on by a guy whose big line consists of bird calls. In this affair, Walter finally finds someone he can relate to, and Miss Fisher gets her groove back.
The movie’s symbolism is not super subtle. Following a failed seduction attempt Walter literally punches through a wall that separates them, and the couple’s eventual goal after leaving the bus tour is the windmills of La Mancha (their relationship is a Quixotic quest, or something.) The dialog can be leaden and obvious as well, with Walter screaming about waking up and smelling the freedom of a new generation and whatnot.
But while not totally original (the Mrs. Robinson reference is deliberate), the movie is not without its charms, chiefly Dame Smith. Watching her ditch the glasses and literally and figuratively let her (amazingly red) hair down is a pleasure, and by the end, you start to actually believe in the relationship between these crazy kids, or this crazy kid and this future witch of a certain age. Of course, that’s when the melodrama kicks in. A threat to the relationship shows up in the form of a Spanish count or duke, and other more serious issues arise. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t wallow in these things, but just puts them out there and moves on.
Director Alan J. Pakula certainly made his mark on the era with “Klute” and “All the President’s Men,” and this film is beautifully photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, an old hand even then who capped his career with the first two Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies. I’m not sure why this was released as part of a series called Martini Movies, which sounds like a tag for the Rat Pack oeuvre. While it’s not a lost masterpiece, and it’s certainly not “The Graduate” or “Harold and Maude,” if you’re a fan of the genre it’s not a total waste of your time, either.