Chilly Scenes of Winter

By Adam Lippe

chillyscenesofwinterChilly Scenes of Winter is a daring romantic dramedy with John Heard as a guy obsessed with a woman he met at his boring job. He dates her for a while, but her marriage, to a man who she settled for, becomes a problem. Eventually she dumps him, but he can’t get her out of his head, even having knowing imaginary conversations with her. Subplots about his desperate-for-attention suicidal mother (played by the late, great Gloria Grahame), unemployed manwhore best friend played by a Gilbert Gottfried coiffed Peter Riegert (who has another mini-standoff with his Animal House antagonist Marc Metcalf, playing the woman’s husband), and his lonely secretary are not distractions, but rather add up to a rather complex understanding of how loneliness manifests itself in different ways. Essentially, Heard’s character is a stalker, though at the time, he would have probably seen as just sad, desperate, and love struck. At least he’s knowingly delusional.

Mary Beth Hurt, who plays the woman, Beth, is never quite developed completely. She’s confused and afraid of being alone, to the point where her indecisiveness is her main weapon, and ends up making the decisions for her. But, since the story is from Heard’s perspective, this is not a flaw, but a choice. There are a few scenes that are familiar to anyone who has seen Punch Drunk Love, and I would bet Paul Thomas Anderson had seen it once or twice, especially the way we side with someone who is almost totally out of his mind. There are even some shots late in the film that have almost been completely replicated in Punch Drunk Love. Sadly, Chilly Scenes bombed when it first came out and was pulled by the producers, who changed the ending and the title (to Head over Heels). The version I saw in the theater at a revival house had a more realistic conclusion, which is apparently at odds with the one that was used in the book.

chillyscenesofwinter2Chilly Scenes of Winter is a far darker and funnier movie than anything else director Joan Micklin Silver (Crossing Delancey) has had her hands on, since it doesn’t go soft, mushy and obvious, and has real insight into romantic obsession without copping out.

1 comment on “Chilly Scenes of Winter”


  1. Bruce Kline says:

    I am in the middle of watching this movie online … for about the 30th time I would guess. I have not seen it for over 10 years and for some reason was thinking about it … ah, because I say “Too Big To Fail” and the ever-ballooning John Heard is in that movie.

    “Chilly Scenes Of Winter” is probably the best movie, screenplay and most realistic slice of life drama I have ever seen, and if anyone bothered to look at it they would have to agree.

    First, Ox, the husband is played by Mark Metcalf. so get your facts straight! ;-) . All the bit part characters is this movie do little things to embellish and make the movie better and more realistic and biting.

    I just watched the moment when Charles met Laura in the parking lot and perhaps overtired and overwrought at having lost her again and made a fool of himself loses control of his car as he is following Laura home and smashes his car headlight on a tree in their front yard. Ox comes over to assist, and the slight interplay between the knowing Charles and the Ox-like but likable Ox is so hilarious. As Charles recomposes himself and takes off in his car, Ox his rival for Laura’s affections unintentionally makes Charles again look inadequate as he slides the front end of Charle’s car back onto the road and then gives the car a shove off, which seems to really accelerate it down the road. I did not see this the first few times I watched the movie .. and this is the type of movie this is – very multileveled and textured in ways that are really brilliant.

    The way the movie centers on the mundane and real elements of life, work, dinner, phoning his mother who is slipping into senility, and getting to know Sam, his stepfather. The acting, the dialog, it is all as perfect as any movie I have ever seen.

    The dance of Charles sweeping Laura off her feet is what makes Charles like Laura, it is that he empowers himself – it’s not really even Laura. Laura is like an immature non-fully-formed girl who is not quite able to make in the world and needs someone but resents it and so cannot really quite connect with anyone.

    After Charles’ adventures in obsession he finally is able to move on, at least in the real version of the movie … the version of the movie I saw in the theaters, at the suggestion at the time of Siskel and Ebert, two thumbs us on the original Sneak Previews.

    At the time I was going thought something similar so perhaps that is what allowed me to view this film with such open eyes, but it really is a startlingly good view into the minds of two people. In that both people are more real than you will ever see in most movies. Laura is just as lost as Charles, but Charles is finally able to move on, grieve and let Laura go … as tough an odyssey as any hero has to overcome.

    Well, I could go on at great length about this movie, even the music is great … but sadly, no soundtrack album that I have ever seen or heard about. I gave this movie a 10/10 stars, it is the most brilliant, and down to Earth character study ever in any movie.

    Worth mentioning of course are Gloria Grahame, Kenneth McMillan, Peter Reigert, John Heard who carries this movie effortlessly on his confident talent, and all, every one of the character and bit players from the boss, to the Betty, to the candy vendor, to the town of Salt Lake City itself.

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On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.