And now we at last come to the long-awaited "let's just get this Pakula retrospective the fuck over" part of our program.

In 1973, Alan Pakula married for the second time, following his divorce from Hope Lange in 1971. This second marriage was apparently a much happier one, for he and Hannah Cohn Boorstin remained together until his death, 25 years later.

There came a point when Pakula decided that his experience had made him well-qualified to launch into a cinematic study of the ways that families break apart and are re-built, and so for only the second time in his career (following Sophie's Choice) he actually wrote a screenplay all on his own - this time without even a novel to adapt it from. And the film from that screenplay was released in 1989 under the title See You in the Morning; ten year's after Pakula's first attempt at making a divorce picture with Starting Over. That film was part of a weird little subgenre at the end of the 1970s, and was for my money one of the more entertaining and truthful of them all; See You in the Morning has on its side the benefit of uniqueness (for who else was making lightly comic divorce dramas in the late '80s? Woody Allen, I suppose, but he was always more cutting than Pakula), but suffers in comparison to the earlier film by being - and I wish there was some more polite way of putting this, but I really can't think of one - absolutely pointless.

Let me first make the confession: unlike anything else in this retrospective, the only means I could find of watching SYitM was on a pan-and-scan VHS tape (boy, you forget how good DVD and Blu-ray really are until you back to the ol' videotape, that's for sure). So I am not judging the exact movie that Pakula and cinematographer Donald McAlpine actually shot, and that's not a little tiny problem. If someone plopped me in front of a full-frame VHS copy of Contempt, I am absolutely sure that I would not love it as I do; that I would in fact find it boring and aimless. I am also absolutely sure, however, that Alan Pakula is not Jean-Luc Godard.

At any rate, Pakula's screenplay makes some early attempt to do something interesting and unusual with its structure, and this works well enough that for about 40 minutes - the first third of the movie - I was quite uncertain why the film enjoys such a lousy reputation. To begin with, we are introduced to two families: first the Livingstones, Larry (Jeff Bridges), Jo (Farrah Fawcett), and their children Robin (Heather Lilly) and Billy (Macaulay Culkin). What we see of them is that they are quite content, and that Larry adores his kids, and then Jo says the most dreaded phrase of them all: "We need to have a talk". This unfortunate moment fades to black and we next meet the Goodwins: Peter (David Dukes), Beth (Alice Krige), and their two children, Cathy (Drew Barrymore) and Petey (Lukas Haas). They are just moving into a new house, and seem exuberantly happy, with the single exception that Peter, a concert pianist, is struggling with an unspecified trauma that has rendered his left hand all but unusable.

Three years later, the structure becomes fascinating, as I mentioned: the action keeps drifting back and forth through time, leaving us mostly uncertain what is happening or how long it took to do so, but eventually we figure out that the Livingstones separated, and Peter Goodwin died. The particular event that we land at, three years later, is an anniversary party, where the hostess Sidney (Linda Lavin) makes a point of putting Larry and Beth face to face, clearly hoping to spark a love connection. She does, but we don't quite see how it happened in the order it happened: Larry keeps flashing back from some unspecified moment to points in the past couple of years (making it about five years in the future from the start, if I don't miss my guess), not chronologically, and we find that eleven months after their meeting, Larry and Beth start dating, and get engaged despite both of them having significant emotional baggage, which Larry is quite confident that he can manage, being a practicing psychiatrist and all.

Their marriage happens at the 40 minute mark, give or take a few minutes, and that's when the film abruptly stops. Oh, not literally: there's 80 minutes yet of events. But it stops nonetheless. SYitM is what video catalogues refer to as an "adult drama", which means a film about adults that is a drama i.e. a serious movie. Drama means something else, though: a narrative in which a situation is threatened by an internal or external conflict. And boy, though Pakula sure does try to pretend otherwise, there's precious damn little conflict in the remainder of SYitM, which I might summarise as "Larry and Beth are quite happy, and the kids adapt fairly well to their step-father's presence, and any small issues that crop up are dealt with swiftly and maturely, with little negative repercussions."

That leaves the film to function as one thing alone: a character study. Now, I can enjoy a good character study, and this one happens to be unusually well-acted: Bridges and Krige are both outstanding, and the kids are all pretty fine themselves: Haas and Barrymore were of course both established by this point, and it's no surprise that Culkin went on to have a proper career. Nor can you fault Pakula's fine sense of observation: I have never been married, let alone divorced and remarried, but I imagine that exactly the set of emotions that I would experience in such a state are the ones that Larry and Beth go through, particularly since I share a number of Beth's neuroses. And maybe that is the point of the film, and it's value: it presents a particular emotional state in such a way that it's easy to understand it.

And if that's the case, then, great? But it might have been nice to actually have some kind of emotional response to it, in addition to just nodding and thinking, "ah yes, this seems to be properly observed." Maybe the recently-divorced would get some use out of the film, I don't really know. What I do know is that I was fully engaged and moved by Starting Over, and I was lightly hypnotised by the almost complete lack of incident in See You in the Morning. I know as well as anyone that Pakula had a career-long interest in clinical observation of human beings - he even games it a little in this, his first original story, by making the male lead a mental health professional - but usually that observation leads to something, anything. This is just boring. A cheap, uncritical word to use, but I cannot better it.

I feel dirty commenting on the visuals of the film (full-frame videotape, yo - though calling it "full-frame" when I watched it on a widescreen TV seems a bit hurtfully ironic), but it doesn't seem to me that it has any particular merit aesthetically, either. The director and cinematographer's last effort, Orphans, may have looked rather pedestrian, but I found that it engaged in some rather unusual choices of angle and movement, if not in lighting. SYitM doesn't look pedestrian, it is pedestrian, except that in one scene a garish red light pours out of the bedroom, signifying "lust" in the most inane way possible (I must admit that it might have seemed a good deal less inane if it weren't on VHS, with its notorious inability to hold reds steady).

Can I call this an abject failure? No, for I am certain that Pakula made exactly the film he wanted to: a no-holds-barred look at the mind of the recently remarried, unencumbered by any fake melodrama. Unfortunately, the fake melodrama is the only thing that would have kept my attention, and while I cannot in good faith claim See You in the Morning as a wreck on the order of Sophie's Choice or Dream Lover, it's appallingly bland nevertheless.