Stephen Blume (George Segal) is in love with his wife, Nina (Susan Anspach), but the trouble is she's not his wife anymore. He has arrived in Venice for a break and to recall his six-year marriage since this was the place they went on honeymoon; it became the most romantic city in the world for them, somewhere to go to recharge the batteries of their relationship and now he is here without her, Blume feels like half of a man. Nevertheless, he has his memories and as he wanders the streets and squares he observes the other tourists for whom the location is ideal to dispense with their inhibitions and throw themselves on the altar of romance. Yet his memories keep returning, all those things he did right by Nina, and all those things he did wrong...
Among the auteurs out of Hollywood in the seventies American New Wave, Paul Mazursky got a raw deal since his brand of personal, some would say too personal, dramas and comedies did not so much go out of fashion as be overtaken by the independent cinema movement, only usually they could not afford the help of a major studio to assist with the budget, so no trips to Venice for them. This placed Mazursky in a privileged position in this decade, but one which became a liability once the eighties dawned with only really Enemies: A Love Story garnering any kind of wide critical acclaim, and even then it was relegated to the smaller theatres for its distribution in spite of a fairly high profile cast.
So perhaps it would be best to remember the director as he was in his most creatively fertile era, which would be from his debut at the helm of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice at the end of the sixties, to his last big hit An Unmarried Woman at the end of the seventies - Moscow on the Hudson did well enough as a Robin Williams vehicle, but was no blockbuster. However, the accusations against the filmmaker that he was hopelessly self-indulgent never left him, as he knew what interested him and that was by and large his own experiences, though there were reasons why you hoped Blume in Love did not follow his own life story too closely. Segal was well into his brand of middle aged crazy roles by this point, and the part of Blume could have been written specifically to his strengths.
Indeed, we are so used to Segal playing a nice guy that there's a lot increasingly jarring about the character he essayed here. Initially you want to see him as a bruised romantic, visiting Venice one last time to mull over his mistakes, and that would suit the star's persona to a tee, except that we see his first mistake was to bed his secretary (Annazette Chase) on a whim a few years into his marriage, which he might have gotten away with except he and Nina were suffering bad colds and she too had returned home to recuperate, thereby walking in on the illicit couple and seeing no way out other than divorce. What makes this ironic, or apt depending on your point of view, is that Blume is a successful Los Angeles divorce lawyer, and client Shelley Winters' opinion of the opposite sex - a disgusted spit at the mere mention of men - appears to appeal to Mazursky.
An uncomfortable way of seeing it is that Blume was intended to be more sympathetic to Mazursky's way of thinking than he ended up to those of us in the audience once the soon to be ex-husband quickly realises the error of his actions and spends the rest of the story behaving like a stalker, in the modern parlance. There's nothing sweet about Blume obsessing over Nina, only we were under the impression this was supposed to be a comedy, and the laughs are decidedly not arriving. No matter how well-observed the protagonist is he remains oddly repulsive, and Segal does wonders in conjuring a three-dimensional personality where he could easily have turned caricature what with visiting a swinger's bar or constantly making his new girlfriend (Marsha Mason, again a strong performance) feel like a second class citizen thanks to his pining. Kris Kristofferson put in a good account of himself as Nina's new stoner, musician boyfriend, but the whole movie is dominated by one horrendous act in the latter stages that makes it hard to enjoy. She'd be better off without Blume. Music by Bill Conti.