Maggie Smith, California Suite

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

David Denby

“A much better episode features Michael Caine and Maggie Smith. Too eccentric in style to play a romantic heroine or an ordinary mother or working woman, Maggie Smith is the closest thing we have to a great camp actress. In her movie work whe’s stayed within the brittle-mistress-of-temperament territory staked out by Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, and Angela Lansbury, even though she’s softer and more likable than any of those famous ladies. No matter what she does, she always seems actressy, and here she’s at her best actually playing an actress—a serious Shakespeare-and-Pinter-type performer who is up for an Oscar and is feeling very nervous about it. Smith performs comic miracles with her high, wandering voice, her mixture of sweetness and self-pity, mock hauteur and affected surprise (“What is this green slime?” she inquires, shocked, when some California vegetarian dip is placed before her at a bar). Caine cushions her nicely as a bixexual husband who is true to her in his own way. Their bedtime patter is all banter (what else?), but Caine and Smith, with their relaxed knowingness, manage to suggest the weariness of a couple who routinely substitute banter for sex. For a change, the jokes work with the situation rather than against it, and the two actors slow doesn the tempo of Simon’s repartee so much that they almost seem to be playing human beings rather than wrangling automatons. In a Neil Simon movie, that’s a rarity.”

David Denby
New York, January 29, 1979


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