Making Love
Director: Arthur Hiller. Cast: Michael Ontkean, Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin, Wendy Hiller, Gwen Arner, Arthur Hill, Nancy Olson, Asher Brauner. Screenplay: Barry Sandler (based on a screen story by A. Scott Berg).

Photo © 1982 20th Century Fox
I'm as wordy as they come, and still I can't always think of anything to add to the critical and popular consensus that already exists around a movie. Such is the case with Making Love, 20th Century Fox's 1982 attempt to clear the way for gay (white male upper-class) romance, both as a tolerated form of passion and a potential new market of ticket-buyers. That's a practical motivation, not a cynical one, and if Making Love has a virtue, its lack of cynicism is that virtue. Love Story helmer Arthur Hiller launches forward with another of his faux-delicate piano scores, cinematographer David Walsh lights everyone in the soft, gauzy glow of heartache and beatitudes, and whatever their limitations as performers, future Twin Peaks sheriff Michael Ontkean, former Charlie's angel Kate Jackson, and Harry Hamlin, recently retired as Perseus of Clash of the Titans, all bring conviction, compassion, and a sometimes oppressive air of responsibility to their performances. The studio that was simultaneously preparing to distribute Porky's around the country hasn't allowed much if any room for actual erotic spontaneity, much less any ribaldry whatsoever, in Making Love—unless swimming-pool frolics and endless shots of Hamlin doing push-ups are supposed to count. But they've at least gone pretty whole-hog with the same "serious romance" signifiers that they'd have furnished to a Marsha Mason or Jill Clayburgh vehicle in the same period, all the way through to the soothing and subtly incoherent Burt Bacharach-Carole Bayer Sager number that Roberta Flack croons over the end credit roll.

It's remarkable and admirable that all three leads, especially Jackson, take their roles so seriously and that the director seems to believe so sincerely in the basic story, since almost everything else that is supposed to support the actors and surround the basic plotline (i.e., boy marries girl, meets boy, prefers boy) is such a thin and clunky hash of feckless empathy and of acceptance over exploration. Ontkean's medical practice, Jackson's work in TV development, and Hamlin's novel-writing have separately but equally dim ideas of how those professions might work, much less how they might intensify characterization, and the private reminiscences that Jackson and Hamlin deliver right to the camera in front of blinding white, are-they-dead-or-something backgrounds largely reiterate feelings and even plot points that are already explicit in the narrative scenes. Wendy Hiller hangs around as some kind of grande dame of a faded-actress neighbor. The costume department invests in bolt after bolt of lumberjack flannel and the prop department in endless bottles of beer so that we won't confuse being gay, even being gay and knowing the words to the H.M.S. Pinafore, with any kind of sissyhood. This, perhaps, is cynical, but it's clear that the movie intends these "masculine" signifiers as gently counter-intuitive instruction. I'll give Making Love enough credit to say that, every now and then, a virtually supernumerary scene like the one where a patient unleashes her disappointed anger toward Ontkean when his reassurances of happiness don't pan out, or when Ontkean and Jackson impulsively rescue a tinny talent-show contestant, or when Jackson pays a call to a man whose address she finds in her husband's coat packet, crackles with a little bit of human vitality that isn't completely conditioned by the film's soft liberal agenda of tolerance and dewy heartache. And even if the conclusion is dramatically unsatisfying, and imports a few barely-sketched characters who seem even more improbably saintly than the borderline saints we've already spent two hours with, it's clear that—without any melodramatic flair or stylistic inspiration whatsoever—Hiller and screenwriter Barry Sandler still want to say something about women's loyalty to loves that have been revoked from them, and about the loneliness that still thrives even amidst new happiness. Good intentions everywhere, without much in the way of deft execution, but the movie is much less homo-anxious than Philadelphia was a full eleven years later. On its own baby-step terms, and despite its moneyed vanilla-himbo vision of gay masculinity and desire, Making Love plays now as a bemusing anachronism but not an insulting or self-inflating one. It's a one-night stand with no hope of engendering real commitment or enthusiasm, and a prudish one at that, waffling somewhere between first and second base, but at least it doesn't strike out. C–

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Original Song: "Making Love"

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