The Turning Point (1977)

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Alright, this is my unofficial start of my 1977 best picture reviews. As usual, don’t expect me to complete this extremely fast – in fact, don’t be surprised if I complete this by the end of the year (which I definitely will). Of course, I hope to complete this asap too but I expect myself to not have a lot of free time in the future.

I decided to start my first 1977 best picture nominee with The Turning Point, which is the only film out of all 5 that I have not watched. Furthermore, I was very interested in watching it cause the several reviews I’ve read about it said that it was horrible, so strangely enough, it got me curious.

The Turning Point also has the distinction of being the only film, other than The Color Purple, that received 11 Oscar nominations and zero wins. And is it worthy of such acclaim? Personally, I think 11 nominations are a bit much since there are at least 2 that we can do without (more on that later). But to be honest, I actually found the film rather watchable and not as horrid as people say. Maybe this is due to the numerous horrible best picture nominees from the 40s that I’ve put myself through, but I actually thought The Turning Point was an okay film. Having said that, that’s all I think it is: an okay film.

The story revolves around two ballerinas, Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma (Anne Bancroft), who were once close friends from the same dance company. The main focus of the story is on the regrets of both characters, namely Deedee’s decision to leave her career because of her pregnancy, and Emma’s ageing and loneliness. There were some pretty complex layers behind both characters that made me interested in finding out more about them. Both actresses were nominated for best actress and gave fine performances – I’ll elaborate more in a separate post. I know many people accuse the story of being ridiculously soapy, but I was actually rather interested in it. I think what worked for me was the characterization of the two female leads (yes, including Bancroft). The gradual build-up of the feud between them, as well as the exploration of their regrets, sadness and inner demons were no doubt the driving forces behind the story. The other aspects leave a lot to be desired.

The script, unfortunately, is probably not the most subtle and borders on ridiculous sometimes. I mean, did the whole confrontation between Deedee and Bancroft really needed all those metaphors about bullfrogs and toads? Did the dance sequences really needed the voice overs of the characters? And don’t even get me started on that overblown, ridiculous catfight on the rooftop – it was sort-of saved by the talents of both actresses, but it just seemed like the weirdest and cheesiest “climax” ever. The supporting characters were also one-note and uninteresting, such as Martha Scott’s Adelaide and the other dancers in the dance company that you couldn’t care less about. The overall direction of the film is also nothing really special to me, and in fact, the story can drag out unnecessarily at times.

Still, I think the film succeeds in capturing the highly competitive, exhausting and yet fascinating nature of the profession. As someone who has zero interest in dance and knows nothing about ballet, I was really impressed by the dance sequences. The dancing talents of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne are on full display in this film. It doesn’t even take an expert to know that these 2 people are bloody good dancers. I still, however, question the way the dance sequences were inserted into the film. It’s as if it suddenly became a recorded dance concert towards the end. It’s not really bad since these scenes were actually enjoyable to watch, but it just felt a bit disjointed.

The two supporting nominations of Baryshnikov and Browne are probably among the most unpopular nominees ever, and I will have to agree that they are undeserved. I’m not going to bash them since you can go read an IMDB board for that. For me, I found Browne’s performance to be the more watchable one because her character actually had potential and I did feel for her at times, but her delivery was noticeably emotionless and plastic. She also obviously had problems handling her character. The changes she went through, such as her sudden anger towards her mother, felt so sudden and out of the blue that I was actually confused. Still, I thought Baryshnikov was just laughable – fantastic dancer, yes, but some of his line readings really made me laugh because he seemed so uncomfortable with them. But the worst thing is, his character is really just a prop in the entire story. Honestly, you know nothing about him and he is basically there just to show his fantastic dancing abilities then sleep with the female dancers. Even if it was played well, it wouldn’t have warranted a nomination imo.

All in all, I might have sounded overly critical of The Turning Point but believe it or not, I really had no issues watching the film. I was actually interested in watching it all the way to the end, especially because of the two lead actresses. The dancing, while overly drawn-out and out of place, was also a highlight for me. I have no problems in giving it a 3/5, although I’m leaning towards 3.5/5.

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