Arthur Hiller masterfully directs this fascinating drama about the disintegration of an ideal marriage after the husband discovers he is gay. Kate Jackson stars as Claire, a successful television producer, who is married to Zack (Michael Ontkean), an equally successful doctor. Eight years into their marriage, Zack meets Bart (Harry Hamilin), a gay writer, and the more he gets to know Bart, the more he is attracted to him. As one thing leads to another, Zack realizes he must be honest with Claire about his desire to explore a relationship with Bart. You won’t want to miss a moment of this compelling story about love, honesty and courage.
Making Love 8.0
eyelights: its sensitive portrayal. its dialogues. its structure.
eyesores: its performances.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to hold you. I don’t know whether I should even try to hold you.”
I can only imagine what it must have been like to come out prior to the mid-’90s, when North American pop culture began to shift perceptions, first with lesbian chic and then with a more broad acceptance of homosexuality; there were few high-profile champions, other than Madonna (whose ‘Truth or Dare‘ casually introduced us to her largely gay dance troupe).
Homosexual sex only became legal in some places during the ’60s, and even then it was deemed socially unacceptable. This was followed by two decades of über machismo, especially in movies (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, et al) and music (hard rock, metal, …etc.), during which homosexuality was finally discussed openly – but often with suspicion and/or derision.
So consider what it means to release a gay love story in cinemas back then.
And that’s what 20th Century Fox did in 1982, under the sure hand of Arthur Hiller, who’d received an Academy Award nomination for the acclaimed ‘Love Story’ and had been a box office winner with ‘The Out-of-Towners’, ‘The In-Laws’ and ‘Silver Streak‘. It was a controversial move to say the least and the picture had a difficult time making its way to the screen.
For starters, finding a willing cast was a challenge: numerous actors were approached, but wouldn’t even consider making it. The picture eventually landed television actors Michael Ontkean, Kate Jackson and Harry Hamlin. But many warned them against it, saying that it would be a career killer (Hamlin was dating Ursula Andress at the time, protecting his image).
Still, ‘Making Love’ was made.
The marketing department had no idea how to sell the picture, sometimes baiting people by explaining that Zack was having an affair – but not with a woman (Ooh… what could that mean?). It also focused on the plight of “poor Claire”, even though it’s clearly Zack’s journey and movie. Finally, the trailer offered a proud statement by the head of the studio.
In other words, a defense.
Unsurprisingly, it failed to find an audience. There were even stories of cinemagoers leaving in disgust at the mid-way point, when Zack is shown kissing Bart; somehow, it wasn’t clear what kind of movie they were paying to see and Hiller’s build-up to Zack’s seduction didn’t clue them in. Though it wasn’t a complete flop, it didn’t recoup its production budget.
Looking back, ‘Making Love’ is nothing outrageous or especially risqué: it’s a simple drama that shows a happily-married man struggling with his sexuality, eventually finding the pull of self-expression stronger than social pressures. It discusses the many sides of the equation: his hopes and desires, Claire’s feelings and reaction, and Bart’s freewheeling lifestyle choices.
To me, what made it interesting was the sensitive approach that the filmmakers chose; they avoided the usual melodramatics, portraying instead Zack and Claire’s home life as positive and fulfilling and their relationship as close and meaningful. There’s no outside cause for Zack’s dilemma; he’s just innately attracted to men and feels incomplete without exploring that.
The picture would probably feel like a tepid drama if not for the intimacy it builds between the characters and the audience, firstly through close-up interview segments that find Claire and Bart separately keeping us apprised of their views and feelings as the movies unfolds, and then through candid and mature conversations between Zack and his partners.
One of the things that the picture did really well was to juxtapose Claire and Bart’s completely discordant views of the outcome right at the onset, speaking in ambiguous ways that didn’t let on exactly what happened, but which reels in the audience with intrigue. While Claire is saddened that Zack has left, Bart seems to be happy to have found his freedom again.
My curiosity was stoked.
The problem with these close-ups is that it put the spotlight on the actors’ limitations: while Harry Hamlin was generally good, though not great, Kate Jackson couldn’t deliver a line naturally; she must have forgotten that this was the silver screen, not the boob tube. Similarly, Ontkean gives off a Keanu Reeves/Chris Klein vibe that lacked the needed poignancy.
The performances were by far the weakest part of ‘Making Love’, and I felt inclined to give it a 7.75, until it occurred to me just how good the rest of it was: the dialogues are intelligent and well-conceived, the characters are realistic and fully-formed, the storytelling is inspired, its views are balanced, and the seduction scenes are tasteful and engaging.
‘Making Love’ is a very good movie and, by today’s standards, it’s nothing shocking. Having said this, it must have been quite a stunner at the time, being the first major studio offering of its kind. Unsurprisingly, it hobbled Hamlin and Ontkean’s big screen ambitions, though they would both find success on television with ‘L.A. Law’ and ‘Twin Peaks’, respectively.
Given that the AIDS epidemic came to forefront immediately after its release, it’s likely that some stigma was attached to this film and its cast. There was such a gross misunderstanding of the disease that people thought of it as a “gay plague”. Ignorance exacted a heavy toll on the gay community at this time, sometimes even from within. It deserved better.
The same could be said for ‘Making Love’.
Date of viewing: May 29, 2017