Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Jill Clayburgh

If future generations want to know what life was like for smart, sensitive urban women in the 1970s, a time capsule should be stocked with the movies of Jill Clayburgh, the lovely actress who died this week.

When a feminist wave was wrecking marriages and reordering relationships, Clayburgh brilliantly embodied their emotional chaos in "An Unmarried Woman" (1978), "Starting Over" (1979) and "It's My Turn" (1980).

Getting Oscar nominations for the first two, she went beyond clich├ęs of the time to show the tumult of living through breakups, self-discovery and inner renewal.

Best-known of her roles is Erica in "An Unmarried Woman" who, after her husband blurts out and blubbers over his infidelity, goes through the rage of betrayal and, with an ever-present support group of divorced friends, finds herself dating again, kissing a few frogs until she meets a sort-of-prince.

Clayburgh makes her real, despite an unfortunate directorial choice of using an actual psychologist to spout platitudes in improvised therapy sessions.

My favorite is "Starting Over" with, of all people, Burt Reynolds in a fine performance as a dazed newly separated man who puts Clayburgh's wised-up divorcee through hell in a rebound romance.

After a scene of Reynolds' panic attack during sofa shopping in which all the onlookers respond when a doctor asks for a valium, there is a final encounter in which Clayburgh asks, "What do you want?"

"I want us to live together," he answers. "I want us to get married. I want us to have children together. I want us to put our teeth in the same glass. I want us buried together in a family plot with one headstone. What do you want?"

After a flicker of pause, she answers: "I want a separate glass for my teeth."

Jill Clayburgh brought to life the kind of woman who had earned her own glass.

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