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The Wikipedia article for Minnie and Moskowitz says that the film received “generally positive reviews” but offers no proof of this claim. Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby, the reviewers for the New Yorker and New York Times, respectively, both hated it. Roger Ebert loved it and contrasted it with Husbands, the most recent film by director John Cassavetes. Ebert said Husbands was overrated and I completely agree, I found it difficult to watch and even more difficult to appreciate in a modern context. It feels long and unedited, with frequent indulgences that feel spiteful to the viewer.
Cassavetes followed up his homage to male friendship and masculine rage and disappointment with the much sweeter Minnie and Moskowitz, a story about unlikely love. Gena Rowlands plays Minnie Moore, a detached, distant woman who is in an affair with an abusive married man. Seymour Cassel plays Seymour Moskowitz, an emotional, simple man who just wants to park cars for living and eat hot dogs. They meet through a chance encounter and strike up a relationship that progresses quickly.
It’s supposed to be a story of oil and water, which is familiar territory for a love story, but this really stretches credulity. Minnie’s relationship is horrible, with a cartoonishly evil man who is wasting her time and is completely unaware of how to connect with others. The physical violence is shocking, but it works to establish Minnie as having a difficult time of life. She’s not sure what she wants, but she imagines romance as something she’s open to and increasingly hopeless about at the same time. We see her have a blind date that is beyond terrible, with a man who seems to have never interacted with anyone in his life. He shouts constantly, babbles, and says things no person would say to another person. Minnie is not polite but also shouldn’t be, given the circumstances. At the halfway point through the movie, all we know about Minnie is that her life is terrible and that she seems very sad, all of the time.
Moskowitz, however, seems a little more joyful but also so much worse to be around. He eats hot dogs for every meal and ambles through life with no ambition. His mother calls him stupid even at the moment that’s supposed to provide the movie’s emotional peak. Minnie doesn’t seem to like anything about him, but he saves her from a violent, offensive tirade at the end of the blind date and their lives become intertwined. He calls her beautiful, she says she’s not interested, but he just won’t go away.
This is supposed to be an offbeat romance, but it never gets funny or sweet enough to really qualify. Minnie seems so sad, even when we’re supposed to find the whole thing charming, and Moskowitz is so oafish and frustrating that even when it’s supposed to have a kind of Moonstruck quality to it, it feels like she needs to get away from him to have any chance at all. You never want these two people to be together or feel any reason to think that they should be together except for a sense that neither is happy anywhere else.
There are fun moments, like a plane trip where Moskowitz tries to convince a child to eat carrots by acting silly. Minnie never gets these moments, short of a romantic, drunken discussion of what movies tell us about romance. Moskowitz flits between these sweet, silly moments and moments that tilt very far in the other direction. Within the first ten minutes of the movie we see him barge into conversations and insist everyone knows him as he drinks out of people’s drinks. I know this is supposed to establish him as not your average loser, but man, I really hated him the entire way through. I couldn’t stop picturing the real Seymour Moskowitz and imagining how awful he would be to be around.
Your enjoyment here will depend on if it bothers you that these people are so sad and so wrong for each other or not. The whole point of a movie like this is watching the friction as opposites attract. The story of a frustrating man wearing down a sad woman through extreme acts and broad gestures is not a story I want to watch, even well-performed as this one is. I really didn’t like the message of Husbands and I think there’s more to like here, but this still isn’t for me. I see the message here, but I don’t buy it at all.
Is it better than the last movie we looked at? Once Upon a Time in the West is a little bloated and borrows so much that it feels complex, whereas this is really just two people slowly falling in love. No one in Minnie and Moskowitz other than the title characters is present for more than five minutes. That said, Timothy Carey (the gunman from The Killing as well as other Kubrick and Cassavetes films) plays an oddball who bothers Moskowitz during a meal at a diner and steals the show. I’ll remember his small part more than anything else here, but overall this just won’t stick with me.
Is it the best movie of all time? No, not at all. Persona keeps the crown and I think other than Husbands, this is the least I’ve enjoyed a Cassavetes movie. Both Persona and Minnie and Moskowitz have elements of horror in them. I found myself hoping the two characters could separate in both films before they could do more damage to each other. In Persona that’s at least intentional.
You can watch Minnie and Moskowitz on The Criterion Channel (subscription required; limited availability). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.