The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  

USA, 1969.  Boardwalk Productions.  Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the novel by John Nichols.  Cinematography by Milton R. Krasner.  Produced by Alan J. Pakula.  Music by Fred Karlin.  Production Design by Roland Anderson.  Costume Design by John A. Anderson, Jennifer L. Parsons.  Film Editing by Sam O’Steen, John W. Wheeler

Making his way to begin college away from home, Wendell Burton meets kooky Liza Minnelli and she immediately ingratiates herself into his life.  Showing up on his campus and taking over his free time, Minnelli is at first a nuisance but it’s not long before Burton is inspired to have tender feelings for her that she returns, resulting in the two of them spending a great deal of time together.  When they are alone they seem to work well, Burton shy and not in a rush to become a part of the noise of campus life while Minnelli presents herself as a free-thinking rebel who believes that all the women in her college are creeps.  A few disastrous experiences socializing at parties slowly wakes Burton up to the reality that she is actually antisocial and a woefully insecure personality, and while at first they weather this storm he soon must face the possibility that she has deeper problems than he can access.  This early Alan J. Pakula film provides Minnelli with only her second major film role and she excels in it, giving a grounded performance that finds the rage and sorrow behind her character’s eccentric behaviour and prevents her from being the soulless pioneer of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype.  The story of a good man being strong for a broken woman is already tired by the time this film is made, but the sensitivity and kindness with which it is written and directed, emphasizing a number of quiet, wordless scenes of softly developing romance before an ending that provides no easy solution, make it feel sympathetic instead of judgmental.

 Academy Award Nominations:  Best Actress (Liza Minnelli); Best Original Song (“Come Saturday Morning”)

Golden Globe Award Nomination:  Best Actress-Drama (Liza Minnelli)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s