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A bittersweet romantic comedy, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973) tells the unlikely love story of Lila (Maggie Smith), a lonely British spinster in her late 30s who is on a bus tour of Spain, and Walter (Timothy Bottoms), an 18-year-old American screw-up who ends up traveling with her. The film was made in 1971, when Smith was a top theater star in Britain and the U.S., and fresh off her Best Actress Academy Award® for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). For a variety of reasons, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing was not released for another year and a half, and was a resounding flop. After that, it disappeared, and was not available on video until recently. But many people who saw the film during its brief theatrical run recall it with great affection, and director Alan J. Pakula remembered it as "a very bizarre little picture" for which he had "great fondness."
Pakula, who had had a successful career as producer for several films directed by Robert Mulligan, including the Oscar®-winning To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), turned to directing with 1969's The Sterile Cuckoo. According to Jared Brown's biography, Alan J. Pakula: His Films and His Life, while Pakula was editing the latter film, screenwriter Alvin Sargent came to him with an idea for a screenplay that would become Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing: "I have an image of a boy who's eighteen or nineteen years old, and he's come back from a trip to Europe, and he wears a black armband, and he's a widower." Intrigued, the two began developing the idea, and Pakula recalled that "I thought of the very bold, outrageous comics strokes I could use to treat it." He called the finished screenplay "a love story of the absurd, a kind of sexual Laurel and Hardy."
Getting financing for the film was difficult. Meanwhile, Pakula went on to direct Klute (1971), which earned Jane Fonda her first Oscar®. Finally, one company agreed to fund Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing if Angela Lansbury played Lila. Pakula wanted Maggie Smith, but agreed to Lansbury. Eventually, Lansbury withdrew from the project, and Smith got the part. To play Walter, Pakula chose Bottoms, who was getting great word of mouth for his performances in two 1971 films, Johnny Got His Gun, and the about-to-be-released The Last Picture Show. Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing finally went into production in October of 1971, shot on location in Spain by the great British cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth.
Pakula, who also produced Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, had trouble getting a distributor. The film finally went into limited release in the spring of 1973. Reviews were mostly positive about the performances, but critics disliked the film's abrupt change in tone. Vincent Canby of the New York Times called Smith "magnificent (and magnificently funny)" and Bottoms "equally funny and believable," but noted that "It eventually goes to soapsuds, but that happens late. In the meantime, you can enjoy two of the most intelligently comic performances of the year so far." Variety's critic agreed, saying that "the first two-thirds of the film is lowkeyed and totally disarming, played with enormous sensitivity by two leads," but that it "goes woefully off the track, and the viewer can almost feel the carefully wrought mood slip away." The public apparently agreed, and the film failed at the box office. More than 20 years later, Pakula still remembered Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing fondly, even as he admitted that the public "roundly rejected it," and that "while there were charming, outrageous, farcical things in it, it didn't work....But there is a lonely little minority out there that seems to still remember it."
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor: Russell Lloyd
Costume Design: Maggie Smith's wardrobe designed by Germinal Rangel
Art Direction: Enrique Alarcon
Music: Michael Small
Cast: Maggie Smith (Lila Fisher), Timothy Bottoms (Walter Elbertson), Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon (The Duke), Emiliano Redondo (The Spanish Gentleman),Charles Baxter (Dr. Elbertson), Margaret Modlin (Mrs. Elbertson), May Heatherly (Melanie Elbertson), Lloyd Brimhall (Carl).
C-110m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri