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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Shout Select has, for some inexplicable reason, chosen to give this Lily Tomlin comedy (written by her significant other, Jane Wagner) a Blu-ray upgrade. Sadly, after watching it again, I feel no different about it than when it came out some 37 years ago. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Feb. 5, 1981. Fortunately, all concerned would go on to bigger and better things.

It is generally agreed that comedy films are the most difficult to make, and if that’s true, it must be even harder to blend different styles of comedy and make them work together.

That’s one of the main aims of “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” and the result is simply a comedy that can’t make up its mind.

“Shrinking Woman” is often funny but it’s an empty laughter brought on by the expertise of the cast as much as anything. The script is a disjointed mess with very little originality, and though the direction is better, it, too, is rather unimaginative.

But Lily Tomlin has the makings of a truly great screen comic actress and her talent shines throughout this film.

Unfortunately, even Tomlin is not always shown to best advantage.

Jane Wagner, who wrote and directed Tomlin’s disastrous “Moment by Moment” two years ago, also wrote and was executive producer of “Shrinking Woman.” There’s a woman who must be her own worst enemy.

And this is Joel Schumacher’s first directing effort, so he may show improvement in the future.

But mostly, this is Lily Tomlin’s showcase piece — the first feature that is truly all her own. And we can be grateful that someone as talented as she, is being showcased.

The story is based on Richard Matheson’s “The Shrinking Man,” as was the 1957 sci-fi classic “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

     

Lily Tomlin shrinks to the size of a toy in 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman.'

Tomlin is Pat Kramer, a contented, if harried, housewife with two kids, a Spanish-speaking maid and a husband who makes a comfortable living by naming household products for an advertising firm.

Then, one day, Kramer begins to shrink, and she discovers it is due to her exposure to the many chemicals that make up all those household products.

The premise is a fine one and the first half of the film is much better than the final half.

But Wagner and Schumacher just try for too much. Not content to stay with the social satire and spoofing of Madison Avenue tactics, they try at various times for romantic subtle humor, slapstick, broad strokes, puns and movie parodies.

The ensuing mishmash becomes tiresome quickly.

The same can be said for the special effects. Though they are excellent, we are pushed through them too fast. One of the things that made the 1957 film a classic is that it exposed us to the terrors of being too small as the victim discovered them. There was a gradual, suspenseful buildup that made us grow in our sympathy for the subject, right up to the end.

But “Shrinking Woman” tries too hard to do too much too fast. And that’s the direct result of straying from the main premise and playing cute with the material.

We have Tomlin’s “Laugh-in” characters “Judith Beasley” (in a secondary lead) and telephone operator “Ernestine” (in a cameo appearance), and before you know it, it’s a Jerry Lewis film in drag.

     

Then an ape is introduced and we get a “King Kong” parody, people start running in and out of elevator doors (similar to what the Marx Brothers did much better 50 years ago), and we even have the oldest joke of them all — the bad guys slipping on banana peels (here, the idea is that if one banana peel slip is funny, a dozen people slipping on banana peels must be funnier).

Charles Grodin is Pat Kramer’s husband, and as always, he is in fine form, with far too little to do (no pun intended). Ned Beatty is Grodin’s boss and Tomlin’s old “Laugh-In” colleague Henry Gibson is also on hand — but neither of them have much to do here, either.

And for some reason there are an awful lot of scenes that are so soft in focus that they look like the camera was dipped in Vaseline, and some of the special effects appear terribly grainy (though, again, the effects are very good).

There are some inspired gags, such as Grodin pouring champagne for Tomlin and nearly drowning her, and the cast — particularly the star — is all in.

My advice to Tomlin is to dump Wagner and find some projects worthy of her talent, as were “9 to 5,” “Nashville” and “The Late Show.”

As for “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” if you’re not too picky about your humor or if you are already a Tomlin fan, you may enjoy it.

Otherwise, beware.