Malls. Remember those? OK, so it hasn’t been that long since we’ve been able to hit a mall, but it feels like it. Anyway, malls are good for more than shopping and hanging out. Sometimes they’re a good place to drop some deep, earth-shattering confessions. Woody Allen and Bette Midler did just that in the 1991 film, Scenes From A Mall.
First of all, here’s a little disclaimer, people. I can’t wholeheartedly (or even halfheartedly) endorse anything involving Woody Allen because he’s gotten some rather damning press recently, in addition to the other not-so-nice stuff we already know about him. Very talented filmmaker and all that, but definitely tainted and creepy. However, I’m reviewing Scenes From A Mall because the Blu-ray has sat unwatched on the shelf for years beyond recall. My husband and I bought it at the Dollar Tree.
So, full speed ahead. With reservations.
Judging by the reindeer on the roof, it’s Christmastime in LA, and the Fifer kids, Sam (Daren Firestone) and Jennifer (Rebecca Nickels), are headed out with their friends on a ski trip. Dad Nick (Woody Allen) is fitting the skis into the rack of the SUV and nagging his son about not scratching them. Sam nags Nick about borrowing the platinum credit card. Nick is a successful lawyer and his wife, Deborah (Bette Midler) is a successful marriage counselor and best-selling author, so they have plenty of everything. Still, Nick doesn’t bite.
Bicker, bicker, bicker. That’s what this family does. The kids are barely out of the driveway and Nick is good-naturedly sparring with Deborah. They’re going to be hosting a dinner party and speculating about what topics of conversation their lively guests just might bring up. Since it’s their seventeenth wedding anniversary, they’re feeling a little frisky, if you get my drift. No, it doesn’t get uncomfortable. Much. The film cuts away before anything really happens, and we next see Nick and Deborah sharing a bubble bath.
The real discomfort comes five minutes later. Once a person named Sheila calls and Nick says, “I love you,” to her, it’s pretty clear where Scenes From A Mall is going to go. Deborah is none the wiser, though, because she’s good friends with Sheila and teases Nick about having a thing for her. It’s all good fun, she thinks, and she and Nick head to the Beverly Center, where all the tony Angelenos are talking on their car phones in the parking garage. The Fifers have to pick up the sushi for the dinner party, not to mention give each other some anniversary presents.
While they walk through the mall, which is full of the dulcet tones of barbershop quartets and a slammin’ rap group, Deborah notices Nick is agitated about something. Over frozen yogurt, Nick confesses to having an affair. Deborah is nonplussed and sends Nick off to make a phone call he promised to make.
Once he comes back, Deborah wants to know all the details. Who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Welp, Nick’s had several affairs. He sneaked them in when he was supposedly working out at the health club. One was a headhunter he met at the airport. Another was a hooker in Dallas. The third one lasted for six or seven months and Nick just ended it. She was a painter. Twenty-five years old. Named Edwina.
Deborah seems to laugh it off at first, but then she goes nuts. She kicks Nick in a few choice places, stomps on the pricey photo frame Nick gave her, and throws the box of sushi at a hapless mime (Bill Irwin) standing nearby. Then she grabs the car keys and storms away. The party is off. The marriage is off. Everything is off.
After a failed attempt to drive home, Deborah stomps down the garage driveway and tells Nick she wants a divorce. She’s livid. If Nick hadn’t left the custom-made surfboard Deborah bought him in the food court, she’d have called a cab.
Heigh-ho again for the mall, where the mime is now grooving with the rap group. Deborah is livid, but she agrees to sit down in the mall’s Mexican restaurant with Nick and divide up their assets. With mariachi music in the background and margaritas on the table, they debate about whether or not to sell the house and what to do with the furniture. Deborah’s tolerance is very thin, though, so she, Nick, and the surfboard trudge off to see Salaam Bombay.
Nick is hyperventilating because his guilt has given him a great big whap, and in spite of herself, Deborah is sympathetic. The two of them start doing couple-y things right in the movie theater, which is, thankfully, almost empty. No, I’m not going to fill in the blanks. It is an R-rated movie, after all.
Now feeling pretty cozy, Deborah and Nick get more sushi and the party is back on. Well, at least until Deborah tells Nick she’s having an affair of her own, with Dr. Hans Clava (Paul Mazursky), a marriage and family expert she met at a conference. He helped her write her latest book.
Nick opens the giant box of sushi and starts noshing before he tells Deborah the divorce will be happening after all. He’d like to leave, but the car’s been towed. And then he finds Deborah passed out in the drugstore. Naturally, the two of them go buy some ritzy new clothes and then it’s time for champagne and caviar with Deborah softly crooning “Easy To Love” on the dance floor.
By the end of Scenes From A Mall, I was groaning. The movie is predictable, the dialogue is pedestrian, and it’s trying desperately to be deep while also making a futile stab at comic relief and irony. It’s hard to describe how bad it is. The mime is everywhere. He’s a one man Greek chorus except that he doesn’t say anything. He’s not cute. He’s not clever. He’s just annoying. Eventually, Nick knocks him flat, which would be a relief if it wasn’t horrifying.
The lameness doesn’t stop with the annoying mime. There’s a magician pulling tissue paper out of his mouth. There’s that personalized surfboard that Nick has to keep with him or know the reason why. He and Deborah ride escalator after escalator. Really. There are tons of escalators.
Oh, and the movie saves the best(!) for almost the last. Nick and Deborah take a ride on an elevator, where Deborah rants about how she could easily take up with any dreamy hunk her heart desires. Guess who’s standing behind her? Fabio. As in Bronzed, Floaty-Haired, Harlequin Romance Novel Cover Art God Fabio of the deep pecs and soulful eyes.
Fabio doesn’t say a word; he just stands there looking perfect and watching the floor numbers change like everyone else. I kept waiting for Deborah to bring Fabio into the scene somehow–look at him, hug him, something, but nope. The elevator hits bottom and Fabio takes a lonnnng walk out of frame. Seriously. He acts like doesn’t know where to go and has no purpose in the movie. Which he doesn’t.
I punched the air when the ending credits rolled on Scenes From A Mall. It clocks in at just under an hour and a half but it feels so much longer. Argh.
However, I will say this: Bette Midler’s performance wasn’t all that bad. And Woody Allen tries to play himself even though the tiny ponytail Nick wears is rather distracting–he doesn’t seem like the ponytail type, anyway. Neither of them could save their characters, though, who seem so wishy-washy that I didn’t know and didn’t care where they would end up by the time this trip to the mall was over.
The other good point is that the mall is a blast from the past, and the film featured two real malls. The outside scenes in the film were shot at Beverly Center in LA, but the interiors were filmed at the Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Connecticut, and the extras look legit. It’s as though they just plopped the production down in the middle of actual shoppers and mall stuff, and that’s sort of cool. The malls don’t save the movie either, but they sure hit the nostalgia feels.
So yeah, it’s ironic that this Blu-ray was being sold at the Dollar Tree. It’s a sad, albeit natural comedown for a movie that tried so, so hard.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope those who celebrate Easter have a great one. See you on Monday…