Returning after four decades to You’re a Big Boy Now, which in the interim has become a minor cult classic, is painful. The paramount cause is the 1987 post-divorce suicide of its star, Elizabeth Hartman, whose “great precision and style” as Barbara Darling, the principal reason for seeing the film, either for the first time or again, David Benedictus, the author of the novel, has cited in tribute to her. Barbara seduces 19-year-old virgin Bernie Chanticleer, whose father, library curator I. H. Chanticleer, refers to him as Big Boy for no apparent reason, perhaps by affectionate habit or as a veiled way of cutting him down, and thus adding to the number that his wife, Bernie’s domineering mother, keeps doing on Bernie, whom she warns away from girls on the ostensible grounds that he isn’t ready. Margery Chanticleer distrusts her own sex as much as Barbara Darling hates the opposite sex, examples of whom, like Bernie, she eats up and spits out.
The film provides another reason to patronize it: the casting of two glorious actresses as Margery Chanticleer, with her massive hair and swinging earrings, and Miss Nora Thing, Bernie’s landlady: Geraldine Page and Julie Harris, whose scenes together sparkle like diamonds. Rip Torn is expert as Bernie’s father.
But Peter Kastner is intolerably mopey as Bernard, and writer-director Francis Ford Coppola cannot handle satirical comedy, much less the saga of an adolescent boy bursting at the seams to be let into manhood. Coppola inflates everything—and cluelessly directs Karen Black, whose Amy modestly waits her turn for the boy she has long loved, telling Bernie at one point: “Please don’t call yourself a mess. You have no idea how much it hurts me when you call yourself a mess.”
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