For Better or For Worse
It is strange how the look and the cast of a movie can mislead you into thinking it's going to be something completely different. When "When a Man Loves a Woman" was released back in 1994, I was expecting a cutesy, cuddly romantic movie similar to the previous years hit "Sleepless in Seattle". I was certainly very wrong, as although "When a Man Loves a Woman" features a very good romantic storyline, the main emphasis of the movie is on a couple that struggle to deal with the wife's alcoholism.
Michael (Andy Garcia - Desperate Measures) and Alice Green (Meg Ryan - When Harry Met Sally) seem to have a perfect life along with their 2 daughters. But all is not as it first seems as Alice has an alcohol addiction which she manages to keep the worst of hidden as Michael is often away from home working as a pilot. But when under the influence of alcohol Alice ends up endangering their children the whole family must face up to this secret as she heads off into rehab.
There is no doubt that "When a Man Loves a Woman" focuses on a very heavy subject and one which could suffer from being overly depressing or falling into being too cliche and unrealistic. But where "When a Man Loves a Woman" succeeds in making the movie watch able is by keeping the whole thing feeling real from the charade of hiding her alcoholism, through to the acceptance of the problem as well as the devastating affects on the family.
Unlike other movies which cover the sticky subject of alcoholism, "When a Man Loves a Woman" covers it from two angles. You have the expected angle of watching Alice come to terms with being an alcoholic, the affects on her own life and watching her recovery. But the main focus is the affect that her alcoholism has on the whole family, especially the change in her character when she is sober and how it affects her relationship with Michael. If I have one negative point to say about the movie is the way that this strand of the plot finishes. Without wanting to ruin the movie for anyone, it is as if the writer's whimped out on keeping the movie real right through to the end.
Probably the main reason why I got this movie was for Meg Ryan, who plays Alice. In reality I was expecting a similar performance to that of "Sleepless in Seattle" and for the first 20 minutes or so I thought I was going to get it. But then I got a welcome surprise when I watched one of her best, dramatic performance which kept me captivated purely on its magnificence. The character of Alice has 2 distinct sides, the initial alcohol fuelled fun loving side which sees her pelting a Porsche, whose alarm was going off, with eggs and screaming "Don't you know people are trying to have sex". But then there is the more vulnerable side as she deals with being sober and fitting back into a family which seems to be running without her. Although Ryan has done numerous serious movies, I personally think this is one of her best.
Opposite Ryan is Andy Garcia as her husband Michael and again this is one of his best performances. At times his performance was as good as any by Pacino, which may be partly put down to the fact that he looked very similar to a young Pacino. The character of Michael is basically a good hearted guy who will do anything for his wife and family, partly due to the fact that Alice had been unable to do much for herself prior to her rehabilitation. But he struggles to come to terms as he is no longer needed to do anything and feels pushed out by her new friends.
Other notable names who appear in "When a Man Loves a Woman" are a young Tina Majorino, Ellen Burstyn and the man who seems to be popping up everywhere these days Philip Seymour Hoffman. For once I can honestly say that every actor in this movie, young or old, major or minor put in absolutely faultless performances.
"When a Man Loves a Woman" is directed by Luis Mandoki, but mention should also go to Ronald Bass and Al Franken for writing such a compelling script. Mandoki has done such a wonderful job of effectively transferring this script in such a compelling way that it really does hold your attention and makes you totally unaware of how long you have been watching and how long is left. What I also enjoy about Mandoki's direction is his sympathetic approach to some of the more hard hitting scenes. He holds the focus on the scene just long enough for you to feel real emotion and then he will follow it with a beautiful shot of scenery so that you have time to gather yourself again.
What this all boils down to is that for a movie which tackles a very powerful subject "When a Man Loves a Woman" does a decent enough job. It manages to focus on the way alcohol affects people's lives without overly softening the harsh reality of the subject. And with some good acting all round it works well as a drama which manages to be entertaining whilst showing the reality of alcoholism.