"Robert Altman, How Do I Love Thee? Let me Count the Ways."

Oct 2, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Best explained in the line "Things and people not what they appear."

Cons:A small screen with an inferior sound system may detract from its intended effect.

The Bottom Line: "3 Women" is not for those of you who love "typical" American movie fare, but is instead a fine place to discover the art that IS Robert Altman.


If you've never seen a Robert Altman film and you like esoteric cinema then now is the time to begin. "3 Women" is one of his quirkiest and least known but one that represents his style completely. I want to warn you right at the inception: this unique producer/director/writer is not to everyone's taste; he's almost a genre unto himself.

As with everything Altman, you have to scrutinize every detail very closely. Nothing is accidental. He creates moods with his lighting, color schemes and scenery, instills his characterizations with agendas, and interweaves his backgrounds and sets as part of the ambience. Even Gerald Busby's music score in this is relevant as is the yellow (yes, yellow) Coke truck. And remember the most important Altman rule: you have to view his movies at least twice, for just as you think you're beginning to understand them, you must think again.

He doesn't just direct actors. In fact many times he will just tell them about their roles and allow them to ad-lib. That's one of the reasons he generally utilizes the same cast in most of his films. Listen very closely to the dialogue here. There are his usual talkovers as quiet background in group scenes that may appear as ambience at first. Their dialogue is generally more relevant to the scene than that of the main actors.

In "3 Women" you first see Woman #1, shy, reticent Pinky (Sissy Spacek) who gains employment in a convalescent home. She meets Woman #2, Millie (Shelley Duvall), the complete antithesis: Millie is chatty, outgoing, the queen of tacky, and seemingly endless in her recipes that she categorizes by how long it takes to cook. "We're having pigs in a blanket--it only takes 20 minutes." The adoration that Pinky has for Millie is almost gushing, "You're the most perfect person i ever met."

Pinky moves in with her when Millie's roommate moves out and seems to adore everything about her from the thematic yellow, green, and white apartment to the fact that Millie seems quite unaware that she isn't the coquette she tries so hard to aspire to be. Woman #3, Willie (Janice Rule), is landlady and owner of the local tavern and is actually the crux of the trio, although she rarely speaks.

Remember now, this plot is secondary to purpose. In the second hour, you will see the genius that is Robert Altman. Watch for the scene with Duvall where you will see her in a double image reflection. Then expect the magic transformation. I will not tell you anything further, for screening his movies is rather like listening to Dylan music; you have to discover its art for yourself.

If you find you like his style of cinema you have probably seen other Altman films, for he has made several that managed to become commercial successes: "M.A.S.H"., "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", and my personal favorite, "Nashville". In fact, after viewing this you might want to rerent those again, for you will see them differently now. My next recommendation to you is run, do not walk, to your local video store and ask for him by name.


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