We watch not a story, but a series of unrelated daily events.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"A Dangerous Woman" is surpassing proof that every successful movie must have a good director, writer and editor. This movie does not have even one of the three. It has instead a group of good actors set adrift in a plot so disjointed that just watching it is a strain. Under these circumstances, Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne and Barbara Hershey are heroic in their efforts.

In a promising opening scene, Anita, a wildly jealous wife, invades her husband's tryst in a wonderful bit of melodrama. Frances (Barbara Hershey) and Steve are lovers. This much is clear. But after a bout of verbal violence, Anita and Steve disappear until the end of the movie.

After engaging us initially, the film makers drop us without transition into Frances' guardianship of Martha (Debra Winger), an emotionally damaged woman who has a limited understanding of life around her. It seems Frances was once married to a rich man named Beech from whom she somehow inherited both Martha and the white house with pool that looks alternately elegant and shanty-like. The interior remains consistently Early Holiday Inn. Martha's mental health and Frances' marriage to the rich, dead Beech remain unexplained.

Martha leaves the strange house each day to work in a dry cleaning establishment run by a lout. Her improbable friendship with co-worker, Birdy, dissolves when Martha accuses Birdy's boyfriend, Getso, of theft. At a predictably illogical moment, Getso and Martha have it out. The only connection between the workplace plot and the at-home plot is that Martha works in one and lives in the other.

The only coherent thread is woven by Mack (Gabriel Byrne), an itinerant carpenter who is both a drunk and a decent guy. He pulls Martha and Frances gracefully into a triangle in an otherwise graceless picture. He recognizes Martha as a primitive being and pays her the respect of telling her the truth, knowing that literal truth is her lifeline. Upset by the smallest transgressions of her moral code, Martha experiences emotions in primary colors but is walled off from the subtleties of human interplay.

The single redeeming feature of all this is the consistently effective performance of Debra Winger as the fragile Martha. Many glamourous leading women play one major Plain Jane role to establish their acting credentials, but Winger transcends that passage here. She captures the rigidity and simplicity of Martha's values and conveys her essence without a misstep.

Unfortunately, her fine performance is wasted in a film where nothing else works. We watch not a story, but a series of unrelated daily events. We wilt under unanswered questions. Where is Frances all day and night when she isn't home? How does her place spring suddenly to full, illogical suburban life in a poolside party of umbrellas and people we have not seen until that moment? Don't ask. Will the director dare to pour a box of sugar over the final scene? You bet.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 489
Studio: Universal Pictures
Rating: R

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