A Woman Under the Influence Movie Review: Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk Tear Each Other Apart in Seventh John Cassavetes Film

A Woman Under the Influence Stars Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk and is Directed by John Cassavetes

Review: A Woman Under the Influence utilizes John Cassavetes’ unflinching honesty and masterful direction to elevate it beyond a mere social commentary. Powerhouse performances from Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk help guide the frame from scene to scene.

a woman under the influence review john Cassavetes movie
A Woman Under the Influence

The seventh feature film from John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence, is an emotional tidal wave, crashing over you with its raw portrayal of a marriage teetering on the precipice. It’s a movie that burrows deep into the complexities of mental illness, societal expectations, and the messy and tangled web of love and resentment that binds two souls together.

Gena Rowlands delivers a tour-de-force performance as Mabel Longhetti, a woman trapped in the suffocating confines of domesticity. Her manic laughter and whispered anxieties are laid bare under Cassavetes’ unflinching camera, as we witness the claustrophobia of her everyday life and the desperate yearning for connection that fuels her unpredictable behavior. Rowlands’ portrayal goes well beyond anything I’ve seen from her; she becomes Mabel, inhabiting her skin with a raw vulnerability that is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing.

Peter Falk, in a stark departure from his iconic role in Columbo, offers a nuanced counterpoint as Nick, Mabel’s bewildered and frustrated husband. He grapples with the limitations of his own understanding, torn between love for his wife and the simmering resentment that stems from her erratic behavior. Falk’s performance is a true accomplishment in understated emotion, capturing the quiet desperation of a man struggling to navigate the turbulent waters of his marriage and his own masculinity.

A Woman Under the Influence unfolds in three acts, each a distinct chapter in the family’s tumultuous saga. The first act hums with tension, where seemingly mundane moments crackle with unspoken frustrations and microaggressions. Nick’s attempts to control and Mabel’s outbursts speak volumes of their miscommunication, foreshadowing the explosion to come.

The second act, a harrowing descent into institutionalization, lays bare the dehumanizing treatment Mabel endures, while Nick faces the challenges of single fatherhood. This middle section is a brutal examination of the societal failures surrounding mental health, especially in 1974 when the film was made, leaving us gasping for air as Mabel’s spirit is seemingly crushed.

Reviews for Movies from John Cassavetes

The final act, Mabel’s return, is an equally gut-wrenching testament to the lasting scars of their ordeal. The promise of redemption never materializes, replaced by a hollowed-out version of their former selves. Nick’s desperation to recapture their past only deepens the wounds, his clumsy attempts at affection falling flat against the stark reality of their fractured bond.

A Woman Under the Influence is not a comfortable film. It confronts us with the messy realities of mental illness, the limitations of communication, and the tragic consequences of societal pressures on the delicate fabric of relationships. Yet, John Cassavetes’ unflinching honesty and masterful direction elevate this film beyond a mere social commentary. It’s a deeply human story, filled with moments of tenderness, humor, and raw vulnerability. The performances, particularly Gena Rowlands’ Oscar-nominated portrayal, are nothing short of phenomenal, forever etching the characters and their struggles onto our hearts.

A Woman Under the Influence is a movie that has understandably stood the test of time. It’s a film that challenges us to confront our own biases and limitations, ultimately leaving us with a profound sense of empathy for the struggles of the human soul. It’s certainly one of John Cassavetes’ better movies and it shines because of his vision and the immense talent of his cast. It demands to be seen and felt as it tears right through you. It’s emotionally harrowing and a worthwhile pillar in 1974 cinema – a year in the pantheon among the great movie years.


Genre: Drama

Watch A Woman Under the Influence on The Criterion Channel, Max and VOD

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A Woman Under the Influence Movie Cast and Credits

a woman under the influence movie poster


Gena Rowlands as Mabel Longhetti

Peter Falk as Nick Longhetti

Fred Draper as George Mortenson

Lady Rowlands as Martha Mortenson


Director: John Cassavetes

Writer: John Cassavetes

Cinematography: Al RubanMitch Breit

Editors: David ArmstrongSheila ViseltearBeth Bergeron

Composer: Bo Harwood

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