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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Nell Potts

Nell Potts

Screen Time: 75%
Role: Matilda
Age: 12 years old
Roberta Wallach

Roberta Wallach

Screen Time: 70%
Role: Ruth
Age: 16 years old

 

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

1972
Rating: 8.5 (4 votes)
Directed: Paul Newman
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068528

Summary

From the Pullizer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel, this is the story of Beatrice Hunsdorfer and her daughters, Ruth and Matilda. A middle-aged widowed eccentric, Beatrice is looking for her life in the classified ads while all about her is the rubble of an unkempt house. All she needs is the right opportunity, she says puffing on a cigarette.

Poorly equipped to survive the vagaries of modern life, she has nonetheless always managed to muddle through. Ruth, epileptic and making her way through the rebellious phase of adolescence, seems doomed to make the same mistakes as her mother. Quiet Matilda, on the other hand, seeks refuge in her animals and her schoolwork.

"Jesus, don't you hate the world, Matilda?" Beatrice asks her youngest daughter. The title of the film is also the subject of Matilda's science project at school and serves as a metaphor for the way life affects each of us differently -- how some are able to find opportunity in adversity and thrive and how some succumb when the burden becomes too heavy. This is the story of slowly drowning and grasping desperately for a lifeline only to find that there's none there and you must save yourself. "No, Mama," Matilda says, "I don't hate the world." (Nell Potts, who stars as Matilda, is the stage name of Eleanor Newman -- Joanne Woodward's real-life daughter.

Movie Reviews

A professional triumph; the adaptation of Paul Zindel’s Pulitzer prize-winning play The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds in 1972, where Woodward tackled a doozy of a role that would win the actress her first and only Best Actress accolades at the Cannes Film Festival: a funny bad mother.

Playing Beatrice, a slatternly, crude protector of two teenage daughters who could use a little help with cleaning and parenting, Woodward has some amazingly selfish moments: embarrassing her children with vulgar, abrasive behavior whenever possible (like screaming “Matilda, go fetch your sister before she gets pregnant” at her young daughter while her horrified oldest is chatting up a boy). She apparently doesn’t care about the consequences of her actions on her kid’s awkward adolescent minds, and her boisterous, inappropriate actions runs wild. She has moments of quiet grace while reminiscing of lost loves mere seconds away from erupting into hysterical fits of babbling about killing rabbits.

Woodward, in full-on “bravura performance” mode, goes to places she hadn’t yet experimented with at this point in her career: accent, posture, costumes and all of the usual physical trappings play a big part in her transformation. The performance evoked, for me, the great female lead films of the 1950s: pure character studies that didn’t need any leading men. Beatrice is an innately theatrical and outlandish character that Woodward makes into an emotional, funny and believable woman who just happens to obsessively seek her family’s fortune through the classified ads.

Nell Potts (real name: Eleanor Newman, the couple’s daughter) proves that talent is genetic. Potts is a marvel as the quiet, sensitive Matilda; her chemistry with her real-life mother is tremendous during some of the film’s complicated emotionally-charged scenes (in particular when Beatrice rudely snaps “Jesus, don’t you hate the world, Matilda?” Potts’ manages a shell-shocked, whispered response that is heart-breaking). It is clear she created an actual character. This is the furthest thing from a Newman family documentary, though each member of this esteemed clan gets to really strut their stuff.