The Group. Sigh. The Group is about a gathering, a collection, a consortium, a… group, if you will, of eight women who graduate from University and embark on lives filled with drama, drama, drama!
Based on a book by Mary McCarthy, it stayed on the New York Times Best seller list for two years. Apparently mixing the autobiographical with fiction, creating rich tapestries of narrative filled with rich complex characters. I would love to read the novel. It sounds fascinating. The film version on the other hand is absolute tripe. I cannot even begin… it’s just… well simply put one of the most irritating films I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. Where’s that Hackney’s Finest when you need it?
The film follows the eight women through the 1930’s as they graduate, go off to be be married or have a series of unsuccessful relationships (some that fizzle out, some that end in domestic abuse), deal with mental health issues of family members and their own, talk about theatre, raising kids and politics. They certainly cram a lot in and yet it never goes anywhere. There is at no single point a moment where any off “the group” seem to genuinely like or give two hoots about what the others are actually doing.
This might be down to the acting of the ensemble who I cannot be bothered to go into of who plays them, except to mention that Candice Bergen is one of them and that Joan Hackett is particular annoying. In fact a few of them are annoying. The group decide to play the roles as though they’re all in a Katherine Hepburn impression contest or play it quiet and meek, thus making the group hugely interchangeable and at times hard to follow who the hell is to doing what with whom. All I know though it’s all extremely pointless.
The Group is intended as a satire on the lifestyles of the rich and privileged. They have absolutely everything in the world going for them but allow themselves to be undone by pride, social pressure and at times false mental health issues. Apparently this was an early film to deal with mental health issues and does so by basically showing that anyone with them is a bit of hypochondriac fool and it also mentions lesbianism. Gracious. The crux of which comes down to Larry Hagman drunkenly asking Candice Bergen “are you a lesbo?” powerful stuff.
These people sit around at parties and tea parties and moan for two and a half hours. 150 mins! They do this for, whining about such inconsequential things. It might be “satire” but by God it doesn’t need that long to not succeed in doing it. And the whole affair is directed by Sidney Lumet one of the great American directors. If you’re surprised to learn this it’s because it was thankfully buried into obscurity by people who loved everything else he ever made. It should be said that the film shows nothing to suggest he directed other than the scenes often feeling as though they are stage bound as with 12 Angry Men. That’s the other annoying thing. You could be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was an adaptation of a stage play brought to life part and parcel with the original cast, but no they chosen to act that woodenly and clipped.
I’ll sum up how bad this film was with a description of this scene. One of THE GROUP has essentially become paranoid about German bombers of New York. Literally the moment after she hears about the outbreak of World War 2 she overhears a plane and leans out the window with a pair of binoculars to get a good look but leans too far and falls to her death. The scene literally cuts from her falling, mid-screen to another scene with all the characters dressed in black at her funeral.
It was one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve seen all year.
Dir: Sidney Lumet
Scr: Sidney Buchman
Starring: Candice Bergen, Larry Hagman, Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight
Prod: Sidney Buchman
DOP: Boris Kaufman
Music: Charles Gross
Run time: 150 mins
The Group is available on DVD now via Simply Media