California Suite

Synopsis: The best two-hour vacation in town!

California Suite is the story of five couples who have come to the Beverly Hills Hotel for diverse reasons and who must all confront some rather amusing personal dilemmas. Sidney Cochran (Michael Caine) becomes the victim of wife Diana’s (Maggie Smith) outrage when she misses winning an Oscar®. (Smith won a real Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in this role). Marvin Michaels (Walter Matthau) must somehow explain to his wife (Elaine May) how a sexy blonde got in his bed. Wisecracking Hannah Warren (Jane Fonda) is uneasy about her ex-husband’s (Alan Alda) new California lifestyle. And Dr. Chauncey Gump (Richard Pryor) must contend with his friend’s (Bill Cosby) increasingly imposing manner. Great fun!
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California Suite 7.5 (starts off as an 8.5, but ends with a 6.5)

Similarly to ‘Plaza Suite’, this film offers us four stories, featuring five couples, each of which have their own share of personal problems and/or conflicts. The difference in this film is that it is not cleanly split into four acts, and it simply cannot be told as a play.

It features excellent drama with scintillating dialogue, most of which is laced with sardonic humour. It would have been exceptional if not for the last third of the film, which essentially traded wit for slapstick – an unfortunate affair, especially since the physical comedy was directed poorly.

The best couples were:

Jane Fonda and Alan Alda – divorcees trying to discuss the future of their 17 year-old daughter. There’s a lot going on between them and the banter is brilliant, and venomous at times.

Michael Caine and Maggie Smith – as a sexually mismatched pair of actors (he’s retired and she’s in Hollywood for Academy Award nomination), there are layers of longing, love and casual disdain.

In the third story, featuring two couples vacationing together, Bill Cosby’s deadpan was genius. The rest of the cast was decent, but the story got too silly and over the top by the end to be fully enjoyable.

In the fourth story, Walter Matthau’s comedy was too broad to be satisfying. His skit became farcical – it almost turned into one of the poor Three’s Company episode. Too bad, too, ’cause the story had potential.

It could have been so much more, but this ensemble comedy is certainly worth seeing – despite its weaknesses and this sense of unfulfilled potential. The strong points alone make up for the forgettable ones.

This wasn’t my first time, and it won’t be the last.

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