Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1981. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Alan Alda. Cinematography by Victor J. Kemper. Produced by Martin Bregman. Production Design by Jack T. Collis. Costume Design by Jane Greenwood. Film Editing by Michael Economou. Golden Globe Awards 1981.
Three couples get together for vacations four times, one in each season, and we watch as their relationships with each other as well as within their own family units develop over time. Their springtime retreat to a cabin sees Len Cariou confide in Alan Alda (who also wrote and directed) that his relationship with wife Sandy Dennis, whose anniversary they are there to celebrate, is stale and he wants out. When they get to their summertime vacation on a rented sailing boat, Cariou is there with a new girlfriend (Bess Armstrong), who inspires a mild level of jealousy in Alda that wife Carol Burnett does not fail to notice, while hypochondriac Jack Weston and tempestuous wife Rita Moreno are driven crazy by the couple’s making love. Fast forward to an autumnal visit to a college campus where the whole group are reunited by their children, and then to a winter retreat where issues both discussed and suppressed boil over amid banks of snow. Burnett and Alda are a well matched team who are at odds over their differing reactions to emotional stresses, and watching them hash it out is just one of the pleasures of this intelligent, engaging and superbly performed ensemble piece. Alda wisely lets a lot of issues go unresolved, making it feel authentic rather than incomplete, and does a superb job of letting the natural camaraderie between these actors, who pull off a genuine intimacy that is wholly believable, shine in a number of scenes. Just watch the brilliant Burnett react so instinctively to the people around her, it’s one of her finest performances, while the fine photography is an additional pleasure. Thanks to the fact that the film sticks so closely to the personalities on screen, it has barely dated in the decades since it was made.