I knew this film would be an exercise in being emotionally beaten over the head but goodness.
To talk about our reason for watching first: Elizabeth Taylor was beyond fantastic. Her range in just this film is more than most actors can accomplish in a lifetime of work. And then there's her vocal range from that cackle of a laugh to the screeching yell to the wistful storytelling to the quiet whisper that she's afraid. Seriously. They don't make actresses like that anymore. She was already a well-established actress when this film was made but she was supposed to be pretty. To yell while pretty is one thing. To gain 30 pounds and wear an oversized shirt and yell with smudged eyeliner and mussed hair, that's quite another thing. She's not glamorous in this movie.
And they certainly don't make actors who can hold their own against actresses like her anymore. Richard Burton somehow manages to share a screen with her without looking like he's fighting her for screen time or space. Somehow they're both larger and louder than life.
At first I didn't like the Nick or Honey characters but as soon as Honey set foot in the bar and "danced like the wind" and starting yelling "hump the hostess" she became one of my favorite characters ever.
And Mike Nicols is genius. Responsible for some damned good movies including Charlie Wilson's War, Closer, and Angels in America as well as The Birdcage and The Graduate (and others I'm sure, but those are the ones I've seen), this was his first film. Can you imagine? Directing your first film and it's based on a play written by Edward Albee and is adapted by Ernest Lehman (Sound of Music, Sabrina, The King and I, West Side Story--and those are just a few before this film) and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? Who doesn't feel like the most unaccomplished person in the room in that situation?
In terms of the actual film as a whole, I'll admit it made me uncomfortable for most of the time. But I think that was it's goal. I'm not meant to have a relaxing viewing of a film about people who have issues separating reality from illusion. And I'll admit that I didn't have a damned clue what was going on until the end and I'm still not sure I completely understand. But, I think that's also part of the point.
In random fun facts, this is the first film to contain "screw" and (probably not used in a film ever again) "hump the hostess" and that caused a few problems with the MPAA. Apparently Taylor shouting "Goddamn you!" wasn't as novel :)