Directed By: Melvin Frank
Written By: Melvin Frank (based on his own story She Loves Me, She Told Me So Last Night)
Starring: George Segal, Glenda Jackson, Paul Sorvino
If A Touch of Class only wanted to make us laugh, it’d be homerun. Melvin Frank’s farcical romance is very funny. It has an acute visual humour and bubbles with enthusiasm for its central lovers. What drags the film down is when it tries to be something else. Deep down Frank wishes his film was something more thoughtful, but there isn’t enough intelligence in the story to warrant it.
That’s not to say there isn’t glimmers of intelligence in it. George Segal and Glenda Jackson are wonderfully charming as lovers on a collision course. Segal plays married business executive Steve Blackburn while Jackson plays fresh divorcee and dress designer rip-off Vickie Allessio. Through a pair of chance encounters the two strike up a friendship obviously geared toward one thing and one thing only. The routine is par for the course as far as Steve goes, and for Vickie sex without complications is just what she needs.
Famous last words.
Despite a parade of not so subtle hints from the universe, resolved to have their fling they retreat to Spain for the week. Wise-cracking Paul Sorvino is a particular highlight as a schlubby obstacle for the pair, a friend of Steve who rears his head at the most inopportune times. But by trips end however, it’s apparent there is something very real to the chemistry of the would-be couple.
With its screwy demeanour and the ludicrous happenstance of the comedy, the film smacks of overblown sitcom, but Frank’s razor sharp dialogue and happy verve give it a more frivolous life.
It’s the performances however that really give us reason for involvement. Both characters ring true in their duplicity; Steve, the affable and passionate goof, overly sensitive yet direct. Segal injects his character with an everyday man likeability and tweaks it with just the right amount of vigour, also unearthing a penchant for physical comedy, back spasming and belly-whacking his way through a series of awkward encounters.
The film’s real trump card is Glenda Jackson in her Oscar winning role. At times you wonder if Steve can match up to Vickie’s hardiness. She is given an articulate and intelligent inner life by Jackson, powerful and self-respecting, yet like Steve, sensitive and caring. Her clipped accent gives her barbs and sharp tongue an extra punch, but there is a kindness underscoring her powerful veneer.
It’s clear these are no sex hungry home-wreckers comparable to the self-servers of John Schlesinger’s Darling or Lewis Gilbert’s Alfie. The relationship of Steve and Vickie is never viewed with irony or judgment. As they grow to become infatuated, their juggling act of marital obligation and ill-conceived rendezvous’ is fuelled by a true affection and love. It’s worrisome then to think where the viewer’s sympathies would be if it weren’t for the charisma of the two central performers.
Frank never asks us to sympathise with Steve’s peripheral wife. At best, she’s dull, but this is hardly sufficient incentive for us to cheer for a couple en-route to obliterating a marriage and fracturing a pair of childhoods. Charming and loving though the closed-doors couple may be, do they really deserve a happy ending? This is where Frank’s thoughtfulness falters, asking us to support a unity that lacks dignity.
What Frank aims for is a poignant examination of the battle for true love, but instead A Touch of Class is caught in the crossfire of moral ambiguity and half-baked drama, painted with sub-Billy Wilder strokes.
It’s funny, yes; well performed, definitely. But perhaps a more suitable title would have been A Touch of Crass