Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Woman Under The Influence

Tonight I feel antsy. My husband has The Game on. My four-year old son is asking for Spongebob. And I need something else. Something.

I do/am many things, but I'm first and foremost a Mom. Which is great. I love being creative, silly, in-the-moment. I love making up games, songs, puppet shows and wearing costumes while dancing to classical music. I love it. I’m good at it.

But tonight I need some adult culture.

So, at the last minute, I decide to see a movie at the National Gallery of Art. “A Woman Under the Influence” with Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk filmed in 1974.

The decision is so last minute that I don’t have time to finish my bottle of Gourd, homemade pumpkin beer that my neighbor made. So, I pour the rest into a travel mug, kiss my husband and son goodbye, grab my Metro card and run off to the film.

I picked The Wrong Film.

“A Woman Under The Influence” is one hour and 55 minutes of dark, tortuous madness with powerhouse Gena Rowlands playing a mother of three who is, as described in the Gallery’s brochure, a “wife and mother struggling to tame her anarchic nature.”

Well, that’s one way to put it.

Another way is that she's a severely manic-depressive alcoholic whose complete psychic breakdown pushes her confused, rough, blue-collar husband (played amazingly by Falk) to have her committed to a mental institution.

But don't take my word for it.

I break the first rule of seeing a movie at an art gallery: Always sit near the aisle because there’s a chance, in some instances quite high, that it could suck. I’m just being honest.

But this movie doesn’t suck. Quite the opposite. Watching this mother’s quirky fun, especially the scene where the kids wear costumes while dancing to classical music, turn quickly into inappropriate behavior and eventually pure madness is painful.

The kids are frightened. Family members are unable to help. The husband says all the wrong things and just wants her to “be herself.” People in the audience are so uncomfortable I watch them squirm, particularly during the scene where she downs an entire glass of Seagram's 7.

The pressure on-screen isn't the only thing building. The beer I sneaked in has created so much pressure inside the travel mug that it goes off like a loud pellet gun when I open it.

"Oops. Sorry. It's just beer," I stage-whisper to the many faces turned my way. Artsy types can be so sensitive.

Another thing I don’t anticipate is how intense the beer would smell. And booze is probably the last thing anyone in the crowded theater wants to smell. It’s as if I’ve added a smell-o-rama feature to really ramp up the realism, to make my fellow theater-goers, already on an emotional precipice, physically repulsed as well.

The combination of the smell, guilt and disgusted eyes pinning me to my seat make it impossible to drink my beer. That and the fact that I am technically on federal property and technically breaking the law.

“But it’s homemade pumpkin beer,” I can hear myself explain to the federal guard.

I close the cap and wonder how much pressure has to build before the lid blows off in my bag. Will the entire theater point to me when the guard comes in, "It's her! It's her! She's the beer bomber!"

Suddenly and strongly, the only place I want to be is home with my son. All these thoughts attach themselves to the incredibly uncomfortable coming-home-from-the-mental-hospital-party scene that you just know isn't going to go well. I look down and realize I'm white-knuckling the arm rest. What the hell is next?

She’s gonna blow!

Finally the credits roll. The people around me leave immediately. My beer bomb doesn't explode. And I'm thankful that, at least for this film, I am a woman not under the influence.