Criterion Review — 3 Women (1977)

Posted: October 18, 2010 in Alex Miller, criterion, Film, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


[Reviewed by: Alex Miller]

1977 was a year in which many cinematic classics were released – Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, & The Spy Who Loved Me just to name a few. Yet when Roger Ebert made his list of the 10 best films from 1977 his top pick was a film most haven’t even heard of, much less seen – 3 Women. I recently saw the Criterion edition DVD sitting in my local library and knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t disappointed.

Although the title says three women, the film is mostly about two. The names of these characters are very important. Initially (an incorrectly) it seems as if the main character is Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a young awkward, quiet, and frankly strange, red-head from TX who is starting a new job working in a spa for the elderly. Her real name (which she hates) is Mildred. This is interesting because the real main character’s name is Mildred as well, although she doesn’t go by it either. “Millie” Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) is a veteran spa attendant assigned to train Pinky in her new job. Unlike Pinky, she talks all too much, to the point where those around her completely block her out and pay her no attention. Pinky begins to idolize Millie, and although the feeling isn’t exactly mutual, Millie desperately needs a roommate to help with rent and the two move in together. The third woman is named “Willie” (catching on yet?), a pregnant bartender who makes strange drawings all over the place and never talks.

Although many films are based on dreams, this one also plays out like one. Everything is quite strange, sometimes hazy, and often scary. An alternate title for this film could have been “Reflections” as the use of reflections is absolutely everywhere. Mirrors are used almost religiously (similar to an Ingmar Bergman film) and reflections in water are common but all of  that is just the beginning. Two of the side characters are twins (reflections of each other) and this seems to be on Pinky’s mind. It’s almost as if Pinky decides to become a twin of Millie and eventually replace her, although that realization is much more subliminal and subtle than I am making it out to be. Willie is almost like a look into the future at what Pinky and Millie will ultimately become. The age difference between the characters is obvious – young (Pinky), middle (Millie), woman (Willie).

The symbolism is just everywhere and it is what makes this film truly great, but it would be wrong of me to review this film without talking about the amazing performances. Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Annie Hall) puts on a career-best showing. In return she won Best Actress for this film at Cannes. Make sure to pay attention to all the little things she does to make her character – her mannerisms, getting her dress stuck in the door everytime she gets in the car, her ‘looks’ that she gives Pinky. She’s always acting as if she’s a social butterfly that is friends with everyone, but in fact the opposite is true. Sissy Spacek (Carrie, JFK, Get Low) is completely believable in what is almost two different roles. Her character is a completely different person in the second half of the film but she makes the move so smoothly. The outcome is a character we both don’t understand, feel sorry for, but almost fear. That’s not easy to do.

This is a film that requires your full attention as well as multiple viewings to fully grasp. It’s not a good date movie, nor a film for you to watch with your buds on a Friday night. Go make yourself a coffee and watch this one at night, with the lights off, on like a Wednesday if you want the full effect. Expect a strange, hard to understand, almost nightmarish ride that you’ll be thinking about for days and remembering for the rest of your life.



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