Allan Burns pursues his old MTM colleague James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment) into the realm of big-screen entertainment, armed with all the rhetorical tricks of small-screen sitcom. Mary Tyler Moore is a happily married, traditional-minded housewife who strikes up a friendship with funky postfeminist newscaster Christine Lahti; when Moore's dreamboat husband (Ted Danson) dies in a car accident, they discover they had more in common than they knew—Lahti was Danson's lover, and now she's pregnant. The artificiality of the basic situation (only in televisionland would these two women ever become friends) is compounded by a chain of preposterous plot twists that Burns presents with blithe dishonesty, trapping the audience into false surprises by withholding key information. As on TV, the characters are tiny, cute, and wholly superficial; Burns's notion of characterization is to give each actor a bit (one's an exercise nut, one's a chain smoker, another totes around a video camera) and repeat it endlessly. Even the melodrama, ostensibly the heart of the film, is scaled down into small, tidy, easy-to-take emotions: Burns deflates every intense moment through ellipses or hasty one-liners, as if he wanted to protect his audience from the very feelings his film is meant to produce. A real atrocity. With Sam Waterston (1986).
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