Movie Details
Recommendation

California Suite (1978)

 
 

Many Stars, Poor Hotel

Alan Alda and Jane Fonda in California Suite (1978)

British stage actress, Diana Barrie (Maggie Smith) and her husband Sidney Cochran (Michael Caine) are flying in to LA as after a life on stage a role in a movie has lead to her being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. But whilst hopeful she doesn't have much hope of winning and it is like her marriage which she turns a blind eye to what Sidney really gets up to. Also in LA is businessman Marvin Michaels (Walter Matthau) who has arrived from Philadelphia a day ahead of his wife only to discover his brother has unexpectedly arranged a prostitute for him. Then there are Dr. Chauncey Gump (Richard Pryor) and his wife Lola (Gloria Gifford) and Dr. Willis Panama (Bill Cosby) and his wife Bettina (Sheila Frazier) who are on holiday together but the bickering of the rival doctors means anything but peace and relaxation. And then we have Hannah Warren (Jane Fonda) from New York and her ex husband Bill (Alan Alda) who have met up to sort out the situation as to who their daughter should live with.

So often I question whether I live in the same world as everyone else especially when I find myself pretty much disagreeing with everyone else when it comes to a movie. Take "California Suite", which is based on the Neil Simon play of the same name, as so many people enthuse about the performance of Jane Fonda yet I find her performance ridiculously over the top with far too much cattiness when it comes to her delivery of the dialogue. Yes her character is bitter at her ex over their daughter yet every word which comes out of her mouth doesn't feel natural but crafted on the page to be impressive which just doesn't work. Nor is the fact that here is a woman who is catty towards her ex yet she cavorts in a bikini with him on the beach and makes eyes at him. It just doesn't make sense; it is uneven and not actually entertaining.

Maggie Smith in California Suite (1978)

The thing is that this is the same through out with over the top performances of over crafted dialogue which gives "California Suite" an uneven feeling. Some may say well it is meant to be like that as it wants to be a clever, comedic drama about 4 situations at the same hotel but to me because it is so uneven that none of it ever feels right. Maybe the stage version of this worked, keeping the 4 situations separate, I don't know but it doesn't work on the screen.

But here is the irony to all this as whilst I didn't enjoy "California Suite" and found many of the performances over the top, if they were in the right movie I would have been blown away. Fonda's despair as a mother wanting her child to live with her is impressive except it is too over wrought for this movie, it is the same with Maggie Smith who as Diana is an actress losing her confidence but it is a performance which feels at odds with others. I suppose that is it as "California Suite" has a great cast and a lot of good performances but in one movie they don't work.

What this all boils down to is that "California Suite" was not for me and right from the word go the uneven nature of the situations and the characters put me off. Maybe for those who saw the play or who saw this back in 1978 will be able to connect with it more but watched almost 40 years later it doesn't work.

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