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An Unmarried Woman (Paul Mazursky) 1978 / The 24 Hour Woman (Nancy Savoca) 1999  

I found Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman so hopelessly dated in its supposedly radical feminism that I needed to see what its modern day equivalent was. The closest I could find was The 24 Hour Woman, though Carl Franklin’s excellent One True Thing might have provided decent comparisons as well. As much as my logical mind can debunk the Academy’s choices I’m always a little shocked when Oscar nominations go to films that are as stodgy in their obvious presentation of Important Issues as An Unmarried Woman is. I’m not sure if this sort of film, which chronicles a woman’s (Jill Clayburgh) attempts to find herself in the wasteland that is her life after a divorce, was ever looked at as brave or revolutionary, but that it got a Best Picture nomination might be indicative of how much things have changed. 

Now that we have talk shows where women can discuss their issues in public and otherwise cater to their needs, movies that are only about airing out the boring laundry of a spoiled housewife seem unnecessary. The 24 Hour Woman is a bit sly then, because it casts its working soon-to-be-a-mom lead (Rosie Perez) as an associate producer on one such show. She’s entirely driven by the prospect of professional success and to contrast her character against Clayburgh’s is proof of how far the portrayal of women has come in movies. Clayburgh’s character is shown to be reasonably intelligent, but her character is such a castigating bitch that she’s hardly sympathetic. In an attempt to show us how “real” her portrayal of this woman is, she ends up creating a monster. Though it’s obviously not the case, for much of its running time, the film almost seems a condemnation of feminism. Her adjustment to freedom is roughly akin to the one that Ellen Burstyn’s character had in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More, which is to basically say that she only finds happiness when she moves in with a sensitive bohemian guy. It’s a bit of a mixed message, to be sure, that she seems the most lost when she truly has freedom. Though the film suggests she wears at least one leg of the pants in her new relationship, the resolution feels forced and easy, instead of earned.   

That’s not to say that the resolution to The 24 Hour Woman is much better. Ultimately, the film seems to suggest that working mothers are overachievers, and should wait until their children are grown to reenter the workforce. You can’t help but wish it stopped to question whether the media dictated lifestyle that Perez helps create is part of the problem or the solution.  The film is certainly no masterpiece and it's as flatly directed as the other, but at least it wasn’t being nominated for Oscars, either. Perez is well cast here since she seems a fountain from which unlimited energy flows, making her inevitable slow down have that much more impact. The film’s attempts at comedy are generally cliched or lame, but at least it tries to make us smile (and succeeds occasionally) instead of trying to elicit sympathy for a character that honestly needs the reality check that she’s given, like Unmarried does. Both leads do decent work, but only Perez’s has the benefit of a thematically clear script behind it. With so much dire hipsterism, including a wise beyond her years daughter and much frank sex talk, An Unmarried Woman feels like an especially lame and mean episode of Sex and the City. Oscar nomination or not, I’d rather opt for the occasionally engaging Lifetime movie of the week that is The 24 Hour Woman

An Unmarried Woman - * 1/2 

The 24 Hour Woman - * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman