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An Unmarried Woman

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An Unmarried Woman is a groundbreaking slice-of-life drama that hit the silver screen in 1978. Co-written and directed by the eminent Paul Mazursky, the film was a trailblazer in feminist cinema, exploring the notion of female independence, liberation and self-discovery with emotional depth and sensitivity. This impactful film features an excellent ensemble of actors, led by Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, and Michael Murphy who all carve out memorable performances.

To begin with, the marvelous Jill Clayburgh stars as the protagonist, Erica Benton, a well-off, Manhattan woman who seemingly has an idyllic life — a successful husband, Martin, portrayed by Michael Murphy and a teenage daughter, Patti, who symbolizes their happy family life. A passionate art gallery worker, Erica’s existence revolves around her loving family, trendy social events, and her casual camaraderie with her sophisticated friends.

However, her world comes crashing down when Martin, her husband of 16 years, suddenly confesses during a casual morning jog that he has been having an affair and is leaving her for a younger woman. This upends Erica’s world and sets the premise of An Unmarried Woman. She finds herself as the titular ‘unmarried woman’ now navigating an unchartered territory of emotion and life circumstances which is alien to her until now comfortable life.

Jill Clayburgh's portrayal of Erica is the cornerstone of An Unmarried Woman. Her performance oscillates deftly from initial disbelief, shock, depression to eventual acceptance and self-discovery, encapsulating a spectacular cross-section of human emotions. Clayburgh’s performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for her authentic illustration of pain, strength, and resilience as Erica rebuilt her life.

Notable in the cast is Alan Bates, who enters Erica's life as the dashing, unconventional British artist, Saul. His character is intriguing, unpredictable, and can be seen as a window through which Erica re-discovers herself. Bates effortlessly portrays his character's charm and non-conformism, serving as a sharp, refreshing contrast to Erica’s estranged husband and her sober upper-class life.

Erica's journey is not only about dealing with her marital breakdown but also a voyage of self-discovery. Erica emerges as an epitome of the liberated woman, be it her sessions with her warm-hearted, astute psychoanalyst Tanya, brilliantly portrayed by Penelope Russianoff, or her candid, refreshing conversations with her girl gang about love, sex, marriage, and life. The distinct character portrayals by the strong supporting cast add multiple dimensions to the film, enhancing Erica’s journey of transformation.

The movie sheds light on Erica’s growth, showing her grappling and dealing with her newfound singlehood, loneliness, dipping her toes back in the dating scene, and finding her feet in carving a life for herself and her daughter in the unexpected aftermath of her divorce. Suffused with laughter, tears, and resilience, An Unmarried Woman is an exploration of feminine strength, individuality, and the quest for happiness beyond societal conditioning, becoming a definitive film for the feminist movement.

Mazursky's direction combined with Clayburgh’s stunning performance weave a realistic portrayal of a woman's life, strength, struggles, and joy with a mix of lighthearted comedy and profound drama. It is not just a story about a woman cast into sudden singlehood but it is also a realistic exploration of a woman's psyche and emotional landscape. The screenplay effectively captures the societal expectations of a woman post-divorce, her fragilities, and her strife towards independence and happiness.

The candid camera work, intuitive direction, and the background score subtly blend with the narrative, mirroring Erica’s internal battles and victories. Mazursky’s New York setting also strikes a chord, with its vibrant and diverse backdrop that complements each scene and adds depth to the storyline.

An Unmarried Woman, therefore, stands out as a film ahead of its time with its bold yet highly relatable narrative; a sometimes painful, yet heartwarmingly inspiring journey of a woman who becomes the master of her world after its initial collapse, confronting stereotypes and surviving emotional turmoil.

The film is a must-watch not only for its captivating storyline and exceptional performances but also for its cultural impact and its significant contribution to feminist cinema. It is a timeless classic that tugs at one’s emotions and resonates with all those who appreciate compelling narratives about life and its unexpected turns.

An Unmarried Woman is a Drama, Romance, Comedy movie released in 1978. It has a runtime of 130 minutes. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.2. It also holds a MetaScore of 79.

Paul Mazursky
Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy
Also starring Louis Bartlett
Also starring Steve Jones
An Unmarried Woman is available on .