Title: California Suite
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Herbert Ross
Writer: Neil Simon
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
Music: Claude Bolling
Opening credits mingling with British artists David Hockney’s artwork, CALIFORNIA SUITE has a pleasing promise to be sophisticatedly funny or creatively witty, it is based on Neil Simon’s successful play and directed by Herbert Ross in his prime (after THE TURNING POINT and THE GOODBYE GIRL, both in 1977).
The film is composed of four independent stories of guests in a hotel, visitors from London are Diana Barrie (Smith), an Oscar nominated British actress attending the ceremony with her bisexual husband Sidney Cochran (Caine); visitor from New York is Hannah Warren (Fonda), who comes to settle a deal with her ex-husband Bill (Alda) about their teenage daughter; visitors from Chicago are two Black couples (Pryor and Cosby with their respective wives) who are on holiday, they cannot refrain from squabbling with each other, it is a disgraceful slapstick; finally, visitors from Philadelphia are Marvin Michaels (Matthau) and his wife Millie (May), they are attending their nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Marvin has a one-night-stand with a prostitute whom his salacious brother sends to him the night before Millie’s arrival, the next morning, with the prostitute is unconscious after a Vodka binge, things become difficult for him to cover up.
The four stories equally use up their carefully allotted screen-time, and narrated chronically, Smith-Caine and Fonda-Alda’s parts are more drama-skewed courtesy to their incessant bickering, while Pryor-Cosby burlesque is almost interpolated like an interlude, and Matthau-May farce is left last with a foolish slant of getting redress for men’s adultery with women’s consumerism.
Dame Maggie Smith won her second Oscar for playing an Oscar loser in the film, what a unique coincidence, her flair never shies away from being ridiculous and vulnerable, but her comical superciliousness does make a great pair with Caine’s self-righteous sarcasm, not a worthy win in my book but she and Caine are no doubt the pick in this otherwise lukewarm and patchy flick, it is intriguing to follow their storyline since they are equals in this love battle, unlike Alda and Fonda pair, the ex-husband is eternally subordinate to his condescending ex-wife, and their repartee is intolerably obnoxious, they are not teenagers anymore.
A final note, it is quite regrettable to watch two top Black comedians are degraded into a completely stereotyped mockery and the best thing can do is to laugh about it and act as if it has never happened.