Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (Henry Jaglom / U.S., 1983):

Henry Jaglom's technique eschews elegance and still conjures up a lithe and dangerous tango, a kind of romantic Wesselmann. A street band plays the titular number, a candid tracking shot follows Karen Black down the sidewalks of Manhattan, lost in thought (her husband has just left her, it is revealed). She sits at a café and garbles the menu, the divorced neurotic next table (Michael Emil) starts a gauche conversation ("Do you know there's a tremendous relationship between sneezing and having orgasms?") that's continued in her apartment. The basis is Albee's The Zoo Story as a grubby rom-com: Los Angeles had Minnie and Moskowitz and A Perfect Couple, this is New York's version. Black and Emil argue by the side of a theater (with the locals standing in line visibly enjoying the filming), and the natural lighting suggests The Bicycle Thief one instant and L'Argent the next. There's a pigeon trained like a falcon by the would-be lothario (Michael Margotta), a frizzy-haired Larry David defining happiness as a free cab ride anywhere, Orson Welles the puffy magician in an old TV clip doing a double-take at a llama, the filmmaker's own home movies set to "Just the Way You Look Tonight." Above all is the couple's defiantly emotive bariolage in the face of urban loneliness -- "I'd talk just as if I were writing lyrics, or something." The curious charms are pulled together to the image of Black taking the mike against a brick wall marked "improvisation," neatly summarizing the Jaglom aesthetic -- it shouldn't work, it's too seedy and careless, and yet can't you hear the music? With Martin Harvey Friedberg, and Frances Fisher.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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