3 Women

Altman’s darkly humorous psychodrama about the perverse friendship between two female sanatorium workers, Pinky and Millie, takes its time getting its hooks into you. But, when it does, it’s mesmerizing. The late-70s Southern California setting–so creepily artificial, so spiritually barren, truly the repository for lost souls — gives Altman the perfect landscape in which to ponder his themes of identity and the struggle for meaning in life. As Pinky, Sissy Spacek has an otherworldly beauty to her — pale, freckled, and with fitful mannerisms that jerk out at you in unexpected ways. Along with the captivating Shelley Duvall (playing Millie), the two make for a compelling enough pair to match Altman’s uncanny direction. The first half of 3 Women is some of Altman’s best stuff. The second half downgrades into rather pretentious and dithering malarkey about personality theft, Pinky’s unpleasant past, and a mishmash of birth-and-death symbolism — a shame because Altman cooks up the ingredients for what could’ve been among the most vital works of the ’70s before it loses its way in its own conceptual fog.

Grade: B

Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Robert Altman
Cast: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier, Ruth Nelson

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