Title: The Turning Point
Language: English, French
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Herbert Ross
Writer: Arthur Laurents
Music: John Lanchbery
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
1977 was a banner year for Herbert Ross, two pictures he directed are among Oscar’s five BEST PICTURE nominees, one is THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977), with 5 nominations and 1 win for Richard Dreyfuss and another is this one, the balletic drama, THE TURNING POINT, received a whopping 11 nominations but went home empty-handed (a record later shared with Steven Spielberg’s THE COLOR PURPLE 1985), and in hindsight, becomes the most overachiever apropos of Oscar nominations.
DeeDee (MacLaine) and Emma (Bancroft) go way back when they are ballerinas-and-best-friends, the former jilted her budding career and got married with dancer Wayne (Skerritt) after she was preggy just when she and Emma were both up for the cardinal role in Anna Karenina. Due to DeeDee’s dropout, Emma procured the role and has remained as a prima ballerina for the company ever since, meantime DeeDee and Wayne moved to Oklahoma City and run a dance studio, raising their three kids.
Years later, when DeeDee’s firstborn Emilia (Browne) is old enough to be picked up by the same dance company, do DeeDee and Emma’s separated life orbits begin to converge, Emma has been devoted herself entirely to her career, unmarried and childless, what she has achieved is quite something in this feeding-frenzy and extremely ageism line-of-business, but over-the-hill is a word she cannot temporize any longer at that turning point, she confides to DeeDee that her body has compromised even though her spirit is still high on dancing. As for DeeDee, all these years she has been mulling over whether her decision of quitting is the right choice, and one particularly pestering thought that Emma might have intentionally advised her to get married when she was pregnant with Emilia, so that Emma could snatch that role which paved the way of her subsequent ascendance to the top tier, and pathologically wonders whether she was good enough to be picked over Emma if she had stayed.
Life doesn’t offer us regret pills, and there is no what-ifs in reality, the film at its heart is a benevolent melodrama carrying an earnest women-skewing agenda: the family-or-career option, one can only choose one and fantasize the other, as most things in our lives, either option has its rewards and disappointment, if you get too possessed with the other option you didn’t choose, there will only be torment and frustration, that is what differentiates DeeDee and Emma and grants the latter a more laudable characteristic arc, unlike DeeDee’s self-inflicted doubt of her unfulfilled dream (which leads her to make several wrong choices in life too), Emma is decisive and not lingers on the past, she exemplifies a liberated woman who is unbridled by conventionality, she knows crystal clear what she wants, and is not incapable of live down the gnawing dissatisfaction, this mirrored dichotomy – both live the life the other has forsaken, is superbly deployed as a conceit to draw out stellar performances from Ms. Bancroft and Ms. MacLaine, who can ginger up mediocre fodder into entrancing emotional powerhouse, culminating in their unapologetically campy cat-fight, it is those moments remind us why we are so hopelessly in love with melodramas, because watching thespians go gung-ho like that induces endogenous thrill and pleasure in spite of what drives them are usually tales of woes. Both ladies are Oscar-nominated, but it is Bancroft who gets the upper hand with a more interesting character and she radiates with undivided warmth and empathy (also, she knows how to fake hiccups.), but she has her feet of clay, notwithstanding that she is strikingly emaciated, her comportment and posture is not convincing as a real seasoned dancer. (The film cunningly bypasses any real terpsichorean arrangement for her aside from several default exercise scenes.)
On the downside, the subplot surrounding Emilia’s ill-fated romance with the dancer-cum-playboy Yuri (Baryshnikov) lacks any traction apart from the fact that both are excellent dancing pros, a feat so magnificently beguiling that it spawned two coattail Oscar nominations for both first-timers, a stark case indicates that Oscar is often less perspicacious than we think it is, another horrendous one is Jennifer Hudson in Bill Condon’s DREAMGIRLS (2006), a terrific singer but very broad-stroke acting bent through and through, and she won! Both Tom Skerritt and Martha Scott (as the money-seeking head of the company) bring out meatier presences and are far worthier picks if the Academy was really bent on giving some subservient nominations.
For my personal taste, THE TURNING POINT can be easily ensconced in my guilty pleasure list, but deemed with a more critical eye, it still can be worshiped as an eloquent character drama unsparingly allows its players to shine over the unostentatious cinematic techniques, and a synesthetic feast for ballet aficionados.