Plaza Suite (1971) is a movie where you have to decide, early on, if you can accept its parameters.
The film, based on the successful Neil Simon Broadway play, is an omnibus of sorts, comprised of three one-act plays about three successive couples who rent suite 719 in New York’s Plaza Hotel. The original Broadway cast included George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton who played the three couples.
Since the film is basically a stage play, here is the first parameter you have to accept: Most of the action takes place in the hotel suite; rarely does the camera move outside of it.
The second parameter is this: Walter Matthau plays the husband in all three movie couples, while different actresses play the wives/paramours. Now, Matthau is as splendid as they come, but we’re too conscious of him as Actor; it feels gimmicky. Happily, he’s counterbalanced by exceptionally talented female leads.
In the first act, Matthau is a Manhattan executive wrestling with a Mid-Life Crisis. He’s married to Maureen Stapleton (reprising her Broadway role), a woman who can’t remember how long she’s been married or how old she is.
(Have you ever met a woman who truly doesn’t remember these things?)
In the second act, Matthau is a visiting Hollywood Producer who invites an old girlfriend (Barbara Harris) to his suite for a brief fling. Here Matthau wears a wig that’s so unflattering, you can hardly take your eyes off it. This wig would steal the entire scene if Harris weren’t so funny.
The last act has Matthau as a money-conscious Father of the Bride whose daughter barricades herself in the bathroom because she’s too afraid to get married.
In this act, Matthau is married to the fabulous Lee Grant, a woman with the resolve of an army general.
Now, we don’t want to give you the wrong impression about Grant’s character. She’s not the type who yells – that’s Matthau’s job. Rather, she’s the one who thinks strategically and directs the troops through the battleground.
And there’s a lot of ground to cover:
Between a stubborn daughter, frantic in-laws and Matthau’s self-victimization, Grant has a time of it, brokering this wedding Deal.
It’s only when her head gets wet – ruining her hat and hair – that she Breaks Down and cries.
Spoiler: When the daughter finally emerges from the bathroom, Matthau starts hollering and Carrying On, but Remick will not allow this wedding to be derailed. She ushers her family out of the suite and down to the ceremony, brushing Matthau’s (torn) coat and straightening her daughter’s dress.
Matthau has amusing lines (“I’m only paying for the instruments I can hear!”), but Grant keeps our attention on her, that motherly scene-stealer.
Plaza Hotel was shot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, while the exteriors were filmed at the real Plaza in New York.
The film received mixed reviews when released; even playwright Simon wasn’t thrilled with it. He’s widely quoted online saying he felt casting Matthau in all three acts was a mistake.
That’s not necessarily Matthau’s fault, and it’s not the only reason the film doesn’t quite gel. Simon tends to stretch a joke too thin, in our opinion, and the humour doesn’t always age well.
However, he does create interesting characters, and that’s who you’ll meet in Plaza Suite. It’s the women you’ll be cheering for, especially Lee Grant’s determined Mother of the Bride.
This post is part of the LOVELY LEE GRANT BLOGATHON hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Angelman’s Place.
Plaza Suite: starring Walter Matthau, Maureen Stapleton, Barbara Harris. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Written by Neil Simon. Paramount Pictures, 1971, Technicolor, 104 mins.