(John Trent, 1980)
For about a half-hour this exceptionally well-acted, technically impeccable film looks like it is going to perform a miracle - a narrative about the plight of the upwardly mobile husband that is not only sufferable, but dazzling. Bruce Dern feels trapped by his meaningless job and needy family, and over the course of a chaotic 40th birthday party we enter his head in a series of fantasies/rants that capture his dilemma with exceptional wit and vigor. The critique may center on the plight of the breadwinner, but the film's condemnation of suburban values is comprehensive and convincing, passionate and prescient. And having set this high bar of insight and energy, the film then runs smack into it. It kinda makes sense that Dern's philandering cowboy fantasy is the only out he can come up with, but when this doesn't work out so good the film takes that as proof that aspiring for something better is an exercise in futility. And because this conclusion is reached via a long slide from the inventive exuberance of the initial critique, the effect is doubly oppressive and wholly unconvincing: no shallower than the hit-the-road Easy Riderism it reacts against but a lot less fun. Welcome to the 80s! Also, Dern's 'son' looks older than he does.