(1977)3.5Michael CostelloJohn Cassavetes, one of the film business' first truly independent directors, specialized in a kind of semi-improvised, emotionally wrenching brand of naturalism, which usually tended to polarize audiences. Opening Night, along with A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Love Streams (1984), all starring his wife, Gena Rowlands, could be thought of as his trilogy on a woman's emotional disintegration. The loosely constructed script concerns the eagerness of the cast of a play in rehearsal to avoid confronting the lead actress about the damage her alcoholism is doing to the production. When a possibly imagined tragedy spins the actress into a sort of breakdown, no one seems to be able to help. As usual, Cassavetes gives the actors free rein, and there are some overindulgent scenes. Yet there is far more truth in this gritty film than in a year of Hollywood's output combined. Rowlands is brilliant as the actress, and her agonized ordeal becomes a powerfully moving experience. Likewise, the rest of the impressive cast, which includes Cassavetes (as her husband), Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Peter Falk, and Paul Stewart, all turn in memorable performances. While possibly lacking the unified impact of A Woman Under the Influence, this is still very much a film worth seeing.
John Cassavetes' Opening Night stars Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Cassavetes) as end-of-tether Broadway actress Myrtle Gordon. She is about to open in a play written by her old friend Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell), but a series of pre-show setbacks and disasters threaten to destroy not only the production but Myrtle's sanity. The actress is especially rattled when one of her staunchest fans dies in an accident. In the face of bleak reality, just how important is the old "show must go on" ethic? Supporting Gena Rowlands are such veterans of the New York-Hollywood shuttle as Ben Gazzara, Zohra Lampert, Paul Stewart, James Karen, and several friends and relatives of the principals.