Made for Each Other (1971)

While looking for background on the 1939 movie of the same name, I saw a Wikipedia article about this. I clicked through expecting to find a remake but discovered the two movies were completely unconnected. Much to my surprise, this coincidentally is also a Christmas movie (more so, in fact). The 1970s are probably the decade we've explored the least, so I was excited to find a movie I never knew existed from the era.

Or at least I was until I started watching it. To be fair, I'm not at all certain that this is actually bad or if the style of humor is simply so grounded in the era it was made that it feels alien to someone watching fifty years later. I suppose the distinction is largely academic: either way, this isn't something virtually anyone is going to be interested in sitting through today.

The movie is written by its two costars, Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna, a married couple whose prior screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. That one was based on a play they also wrote together, a fact that wasn't at all a surprise to learn after finishing Made for Each Other - while this wasn't adapted from a play, it has all the hallmarks of being the product of writers far more comfortable in that medium. Scenes drag on for longer than feels natural onscreen, there are a limited number of sets, and the story is almost entirely told through dialogue. None of that is inherently unworkable in film, but it takes a director who understands the dynamics of both mediums. Made for Each Other is credited to first (and apparently last) time director, Robert B. Bean, who doesn't seem capable of threading that needle.

I couldn't find confirmation that the main characters, Pandora and Gig, were exaggerated versions of Taylor and Bologna, but it seems likely, considering the broad outlines of the characters' lives and backstories mirror those of their creators. If so, the effect comes across as anything but egotistical, since the characters are extremely unlikeable.

The movie opens with sequences about their respective parents conceiving them. Neither come from remotely healthy families - Gig's father is constantly getting into fights, while Pandora's mother is obsessed with astrology and convinced she's timed things to guarantee her daughter a destiny of fame and fortune. Gig and Pandora are each raised to internalize these traits, which will define their lives going forward.

Once we're through this prologue we find them at a support group on Christmas Eve (technically we find Pandora already at the group; Gig shows up late). They provide brief explanations of who they are and why they think they're here - she doesn't feel like she's found herself, and he's disturbed that he keeps ruining women's lives. We also get flashbacks fleshing out their childhoods, though these feel less like insight than attempts to kill time with humor (this will be a running theme for the first hour or so).

After the session, they hook up and spend the night together. Unsurprisingly, their relationship starts dysfunctionally, with Gig treating Pandora as disposable and her becoming fixated on receiving the respect she believes she's due. They clash but fall in love.

On New Year's Eve, Gig watches Pandora perform on stage and discovers she's horrible. When pushed, he tells her so, which of course leads to more conflict. Pandora goes home and reevaluates her act while Gig tries to have a fling with a woman he meets and finds he can't perform.

The next day Pandora goes to confront Gig and invites herself to New Year's dinner with his extended family. Like everything else, this implodes, largely due to his mother's intolerance towards Pandora's Jewish heritage. They leave and have another fight, but eventually Gig professes his love and tells her he wants to marry her. The movie ends soon after.

I found the first two-thirds of this borderline unwatchable (not that it ever stopped me before). All but a few of the jokes just didn't land for me, and I found the characters extremely unpleasant. I had a slightly better experience with the ending - while I still didn't find the New Year's section funny, the direction embraced the weirdness of the premise and characters in a way that was at least interesting. Likewise, the reconciliation scene was set on the docks and just seemed to be trying harder to feel like an actual movie than what I'd been watching up until that point, which frankly felt more like a dated sitcom.

But, again, I want to be a little careful here. The portrayal of the characters and situation felt like I was watching parody where I'd never seen the original. I actually think that might literally be the case: the movie really feels like it's referencing specific conventions and styles at times. If that's indeed the case, I could be missing crucial context necessary to judge the movie.

But even if that's the case, it doesn't help anyone else lacking that context, as well. Hell, even if this is a parody of several romantic dramas from the 70s, things like that generally rely on audiences feeling overwhelmed by the material being lampooned. There's a reason all but the best parodies tend to drop out of public consciousness after a decade or so.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk Christmas. Obviously, this is structurally mirroring countless romantic comedies set over the holidays that culminate on New Year's and use the day's associations with transformation as a symbol for their leads growing into people capable of finding lasting happiness together. What's interesting here (conceptually, at least) is how little the movie leverages any of that. The holidays are referenced with title cards and mentioned in passing, but they're given absolutely no deference. Gig and Pandora don't even really seem to care what day it is. If anything, the movie seems to be highlighting the absence of tones and emotions traditionally associated with holiday movies, perhaps as yet another joke that just isn't connecting with me.

For all this movie's faults, I do respect what it was attempting to accomplish. This is a romcom about a couple who aren't likeable people, a concept that has since proven to have merit. The premise of Made for Each Other is notably similar to that of When Harry Met Sally, right down to both movies attempting to mine humor from discussions about the female orgasm in inappropriate circumstances. The endings of the movies also feel very similar in their approaches, as well.

Granted, When Harry Met Sally executes quite literally everything at such a higher level of competence it's absurd to discuss these in the same sentence, but I still think it's worth mentioning that the blueprints bear a resemblance to each other.

I assume I've made my opinion on this clear by now. While I'm not quite willing to discount the possibility it worked at one time, this material certainly doesn't work now. You can definitely skip this one, which shouldn't be difficult: it's been all but forgotten and is a pain to track down, anyway.