Judging from Henry Jaglom's "Eating," you'd think that all women talk about when they're together is food and sex. If that's true, I just hope their conversations are more interesting than those in this film.
Food is an important subject where women are concerned: As nurturers they have traditionally been associated with food, but they also have been subject to tremendous pressures to be beautiful. These can be mutually exclusive demands. But "Eating," which opens today at the Charles for a four-day run, does not give feeding the heart -- for it is not food that these women really hunger for -- the serious treatment it deserves.
The plot is barely sketched in: Helene (Lisa Richards) is turning 40 and decides to throw a huge party not only for herself but also for Kate (Mary Crosby), who is turning 30, and Sadie (Marlena Giovi), who is turning 50. At the heart of the film are the character's short, improvised monologues about their relationship to food.
"Twenty-five years ago the secret subject of women was sex, now it's food," says one character. "It's the safest sex you can have, eating," says another. "I'm still looking for a man who will excite me as much as a baked potato," says a third.
But that there is a deep ambivalence toward food -- as something that provides comfort while at the sametime reducing self-esteem -- is made manifest as the first piece of birthday cake is passed from woman to woman. Each of them dodges the issue of eating it by saying that they "never eat cake," that they're "already full," or that they "can't eat sugar." Soon after, however, most are eating the cake -- including one who binges on it as she hides in a bathroom.
What's wrong with the movie and what makes it somewhat condescending is the narcissistic tone of the quasi-autobiographical monologues. Part of that can be explained by the particular women used in the film -- these are, after all, actresses speaking about their own experiences and an actress' relation to her body is necessarily more narcissistic than that of other women. And there is so much talk of face lifts and of boob jobs that a serious problem gets lost in the trivia of its symptoms.
We cannot imagine these women doing anything besides eating, and we need more than that to care about them and their compulsions. As a result, "Eating" does about as much for women as "Public Enemy" did when Jimmy Cagney pushed a grapefruit into Mae Clark's face.
Starring Nelly Alard, Mary Crosby, Marlena Giovi and Gwen Welles.
Directed by Henry Jaglom.
Released by Rainbow Releasing.