I’ve written previously on this blog about the mixed feelings I have about actor Alan Alda. I mean, I grew up watching M*A*S*H, but I never understood the appeal of Alda’s character, Hawkeye. Everyone seemed to love him, but as I watched I thought, “this guy’s really a bit of jerk.” I later found out that Donald Sutherland’s original movie version of the character was really the likeable one. After the finale of M*A*S*H brought in one of the biggest TV audiences of all time, Alda set his sights on the big screen. He released a string of films that he wrote, directed and starred in including this 1988 film about a couple dealing with divorce, A New Life.
The film opens with a tense meeting between a couple and their divorce lawyers. Steve (Alda) does not want a divorce, but his wife Jackie (Ann-Margret) is more than ready to move on. Steve is a workaholic with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and Jackie feels like she takes a backseat to his work. Steve is miserable over all this, but his swingin’ co-worker Mel (Hal Linden) sees this as a major opportunity for his pal. Mel always seems to have young beautiful women hanging around him, which raises my first problem with this movie. On what planet, exactly, is Hal Linden a chick magnet!?!?
Meanwhile, Jackie is trying to settle into her own life. She’s decided to go back to school, but she is struggling meeting new people. She ends up inviting Steve to go with her to a party where you bring a date of sorts, but the goal is to meet other people. Steve feels the idea is horrible, but goes along with it. At the party, Jackie ends up meeting a young artist/waiter called Doc (John Shea). The two begin a steamy relationship with a major age gap.
As for Steve, an incident where he collapses due to chest pains during a tennis match results in him meeting a beautiful young emergency room doctor named Kay (Veronica Hamel). The two end up in a relationship of their own, eventually marrying and trying to have a child. This is all a bit weird for Steve since his first grandchild is due before his new baby is. Meanwhile, Jackie’s relationship with Doc is having troubles as the young artist follows her around like a puppy, never giving her any space.
I remember seeing this movie back in the late 80’s and enjoying it a bit more back then. It does have some moments of funny dialogue, I’ll give it that. For the most part, though, the movie just isn’t that interesting to me now. I guess one of the big things that went through my head as I watched this was that Alda seemed to be trying way too hard to be Woody Allen with this film. The screenplay certainly has moments that feel Allen-esque, but in a way that makes the viewer wish Alda would just get his own schtick instead.
Ann-Margret, who is usually great, is also a bit of a disappointment here. She seems to be in a fog for most of the movie, delivering her dialogue in a strange breathy manner. Really, the only member of the cast that really stands out is Linden, who gets many of the film’s best lines. Still, I think it’s a bit a stretch that he is would have 22-year-old girls throwing themselves at his feet…but he still does a solid job with the role.
A New Life is not what I’d call a bad movie, but there’s nothing really impressive about it either. I guess the biggest issue with the film is that it really doesn’t go anywhere. It just sort of meanders around New York for an hour and forty minutes and by the end the viewer is left wondering what the point of all it was.