(1980)2.5Donald GuariscoAlthough it boasts uniformly strong performances and typically warm direction from Paul Mazursky, Willie and Phil never manages to realize its grand ambitions. The first problem is the script, which tries to mimic the structure of Jules and Jim too closely (right down to the odd voice-over), while also widening the story's framework to make commentary on the value shifts that challenged young America during the 1970s. As a result, the story line gets buried and never builds the kind of momentum necessary to genuinely move the audience. The second problem is the characters, who are interesting but somewhat unsympathetic. Willie is a narcissist who often chases whims at the expense of those he cares about, Jeanette is all too willing to let others suffer for her free-spirited nature, and Phil is often frustratingly passive in his deference to the other two. Despite these problems, Willie and Phil remains watchable thanks to the sheer talent of everyone involved. Mazursky shows great attention to the details of how people interact, resulting in a number of believably witty set pieces. Highlights include Willie and Phil reminiscing about how they beat the draft board and Willie's parents submitting Willie and Jeanette to a polite but intense interrogation about when they are going to get married. Mazursky also gets great performances from his three leads. Ontkean makes Willie's sweet yet passive-aggressive nature believable, Kidder is radiant as the beguiling yet fiercely independent Jeanette, and Sharkey steals many scenes as he brings Phil's struggle between traditional values and an adventurous spirit to life. Willie and Phil further benefits from lush cinematography by Sven Nykvist and a sprightly jazz score from Claude Bolling that suits its gentle mood nicely. In the end, Willie and Phil is probably too self-indulgent for most viewers, but its solid performances and ambition may win over fans of Mazursky's work.