Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing: Martini Movies
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (7th September 2009).
The Film

I do not hate older films. I know it may seem like I am less of a fan given my cold take on more than half of the “Martini Movies” this week, but, in reality there are a ton of older pictures that I love (some of them don’t even have sound). Age isn’t necessarily something that I think about when I watch a film. It either works or it doesn’t; there are incidents where said effectiveness is connected with the era in which the film was produced, this is true. But, if that film fails, largely it isn’t solely because it was made “years ago.” It’s because it just didn’t mesh. What I don’t care for though are old movies, or even new films, which have nothing special about them. Unfortunately, aside from capturing a couple early performances from actors who would later become stars, almost none of the five films in Wave 3 of the “Martini Movies” series are important, [pop] culturally significant or enduring. Most of them are not entertaining and most of them rightfully received a non-passing grade (D+ or lower) from me. But, if you read on, you’ll find that this months batch of garbage actually contains a diamond-in-the-rough; a little gem that doesn’t belong. A film, that is, essentially, good.

When his successful author father sends him to Spain for a summer holiday by bicycle, Walter Elbertson (Timothy Bottoms) quickly slips into unhappiness. A mild, awkward young adult, Walter makes himself and those around him extremely uncomfortable with his weird ways, awful asthma and mawkish puppy dog façade. He quickly ditches the bike tour for a group traveling by bus, where he meets an equally gauche companion in the form of Lila Fisher (Maggie Smith), an English woman 15 years his senior. Together, the two strangely bond over the course of their trip across the Spanish backcountry.

Did I mention this was a romantic comedy, a type of film that I’m not particularly attracted to? No? Well, it is (the bonding friendship turns into a summer romance) and this makes it even more surprising that I was charmed by the production. It really says a lot about the quality of the film; it’s presented in such a way that I actually found it appealing, entertaining even. Better is that, even though the film is a product of 1972, "Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" actually isn’t all that dated. I’d confidently say that the film needs nothing (or at least very little) changed to adapt for more modern audiences. The film looks modern[ish]. It feels modern; the themes are still relevant and the jokes are still hilarious.

Director Alan J. Pakula treats the subject with dignity and keeps a nice balance of dramatic romanticism and humor, even occasionally reveling in some slapstick (tastefully so, of course). Writer Alvin Sargent too brings an appreciable balance to the film; his script is strong and the characters are likable, realistic, but slightly enhanced, leaning towards the comedic absurd. The fact that he keeps the story small scale (everyone but Walter and Lila are basically inconsequential) is nice. It keeps the film from feeling too forced and allows for the naturalistic and, at times, exquisite performances from the two actors to remain understated but great. Maggie Smith is superb in this film; she plays the self-conscious and meek Brit perfectly. Many of her interactions with Timothy Bottoms are highly comic, but extremely subtle. Long stretches of the film, for example, a good 15 minutes focusing on them dissecting the Spanish language which neither of them have yet, and largely by the end, fail to master, is generally endearing. Their embarrassing mishaps as they begin to fall for each other are, pardon the use of the term, cute. The uncoordinated clumsiness of it all is just so well done that you can’t help but feel slightly mortified, while unabashedly grin at the same time. "Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" is a film that can be quite poetic and beautiful on occasion, but still be fun. The scenery, captured by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, certainly heightens the experience, and the Spanish guitar backed soundtrack by Michael Small brings great atmosphere and depth to the film as well. So much about this film is well handled; it really is a shame that more people haven’t been exposed to it. The story may be formulaic but the talent in front of (and behind) the camera brings a classiness and tasteful quality which puts this film above the rest.

Wait a second… could it be? I’ve taken a liking to a film in Sony’s otherwise substandard line of DVD's, which I’ve been painfully making my way through this week? Well, yes, actually. Easily the best of the 5 films I’ve reviewed from this “collection” (by which, of course, I mean the “Martini Movies”), "Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" is a fun, eccentric, comedic film that is, if admittedly not what I’d consider one of the “greatest forgotten films of all time” much better than I thought it would be. It is regrettable that it hasn’t sustained much notoriety over the years. Frankly, the film doesn’t deserve to be part of the asinine marketing failure that is the “Martini Movies” series – it’s too good (or, more correctly, not anywhere near as atrocious as most of the other films) to be part of this set. Thankfully, you can buy this as a separate entity because I definitely recommend it.

Video

"Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. Unfortunately, the strongest film in this wave of “Martini Movies” has one of the weaker transfers (although it’s not the worst) of the bunch. Grain is occasionally on the excessive side, but is nicely compressed for MPEG-2 DVD. Details are soft all around; this is largely due to the fact that the film was shot in a way as to reflect the sweltering heat of the Spanish countryside. Whites are hot, the image is hazy and the DP plays with a lot of soft-focus. If the DVD's only fault were that it adhered to the intentions of the filmmaker, I wouldn’t really have a problem with it. But, disappointingly, soft imagery is not the only lackluster aspect of this disc; the print isn’t as clean as some of the better DVD's in the series, the right side of the frame suffers from sporadic light bleed, blacks are erratic and the image is mostly flat.

Audio

Sony’s English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is, like the rest of the tracks included with the “Martini Movies”, decent. It can’t escape the fact that it’s a 40-year-old film produced with single-channel sound, but for what it is, I’m fairly happy. Like all the other discs in the “Martini” line dialog, dynamics and overall quality are perfectly fine considering the source. An acceptable, if plain, matter-of-factly delivered mix.
English subtitles are included.

Extras

All of the discs in the third wave of Sony’s “Martini Movies” collection have no extras of consequence. The DVD's aren’t completely bare – there are a few theatrical trailers, even one that isn’t irrelevant to the feature film. Sadly, there are no commentaries, featurettes or any real supplements. The film warrants more than some promotional crap, but the lack of extras is par for the course with this line of discs.

The original theatrical trailer for "Love and Pain and the Who Damn Thing" is included in anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen. Runs 3 minutes 33 seconds.

Three bonus trailers are included offering previews for:

- "The Norman Lear Collection" runs 2 minutes 3 seconds.
- "The Three Stooges Collection" runs 1 minute 10 seconds.
- "Columbia Classics" runs 3 minutes 34 seconds.

Packaging

All of the “Martini Movies” come packaged in Viva Eco-boxes with some wickedly hideous cover art – seriously, who ever designed the artwork for this series has very little (quite possibly no) taste.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: C- Audio: C- Extras: F Overall: C+

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.