(warning: review contains spoilers)
Ever since its release 31 years ago, the person who has always been associated with the film ‘10’ is Bo Derek. Indeed, to this very day whenever she appears in the media it’s obligatory to mention her role in the film. While her role was relatively small, her beauty and attractiveness was not only pivotal to the film’s success but she became a pop culture phenomenon as a result.
But in the context of cinema, Derek is a relatively insignificant figure. In that context, the really important figure with ‘10’ is writer/director Blake Edwards. This was one of the most significant films during his lengthy career; not just because it was a popular success but in terms of his career trajectory as a filmmaker. In the previous decade, with the exception of the popular Pink Panther sequels, his films had failed to find favour with the public. This is not to say they were all bad (‘The Tamarind Seed’ is an underrated and underappreciated film) but it seemed that with the Pink Panther franchise running out of steam by the late 1970s, Edwards’ film career could fade out as well.
But ‘10’ changed all that and enabled him to continue on prolifically throughout the 1980s in non-Pink Panther work. The reason why ‘10’ works is not just because it’s a fine film, but it was the first time in years (probably since 1968’s ‘The Party’) that Edwards had fully utilised the significant comic skills and timing he possessed outside the Pink Panther series.
The film’s central character is George Webber (Dudley Moore) who on the surface appears to have it all. He’s a highly successful Academy-award winning songwriter who lives in glorious beachfront surrounds in Los Angeles and has a long-standing relationship with theatre singer Samantha (Julie Andrews).
But a surprise 42nd birthday party triggers deep-seated malaise and dissatisfaction within him about middle-age and where his life is at. Initially it manifests itself into self-pity and ignoring those close to him, but it spirals out of control once he sees Jenny (Bo Derek), who is half his age and whom he becomes obsessed with as he believes she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. This leads to many problems; not least of which that when he first sees her it’s on her wedding day.
His obsession with Jenny leads to various misadventures and the fracturing of his relationship with Samantha. It culminates in George travelling down to Mexico where Jenny is on her honeymoon. It’s a descent into insanity that has no chance of success… or does it?
For the film to work it needs to genuinely convince us of George’s plight and the key lies in a lengthy early scene when George and Samantha are in bed together and her mild criticism of his behaviour leads to a major argument. Edwards takes his time in this scene because he’s aware of its significance and it pays off as George’s unwillingness to accept Samantha’s justified criticism illustrates his agitation with his life. It sets the believable base for all that follows.
Moore’s performance is essential to the film’s success as he makes George a much more likable character than he has any right to be. George is childish, self-absorbed, inconsiderate to others, and wallows in self-pity despite his enormous talent and privileged lifestyle. But thanks to the work of Moore and Edwards, this is portrayed convincingly and despite all his flaws, he comes off as an affable personality.
The most effective insight into his character is a section towards the end of the film when he plays on the piano a song he’s composed in front of people he’s met in his time in Mexico. After all the immaturity and idiotic behaviour he’s displayed, here he seems at peace with his surrounds and is able to communicate more effectively through song than he ever would through his personality.
The film’s high point is the period from when George first sees Jenny to when he flies off to Mexico. There is an often hilarious serious of pratfalls and disasters George gets in that work not only because of Edwards’ timing and pacing but because they have a deeper resonance in that George’s physical disasters are an apt reflection of how his mental state and life have fallen apart.
The film isn’t flawless. The second half of the film in Mexico doesn’t have the same momentum and inspired comic moments that the opening half in Los Angeles did and has a rather disjointed feel. A subplot involving George’s brief relationship with a woman (played by Dee Wallace-Stone) seems rather tacked on and an unnecessary diversion from George’s seemingly impossible quest for Jenny.
The film is clever in dealing with George’s mid-life crisis in that instead it being about chasing after impossible fantasies, against all the odds he gets what he wants. What George is seemingly oblivious to is that because of his talent and fame how attractive he is to other women and one of these women is none other than Jenny. This is of course George’s ultimate fantasy but as he soon discovers, fantasy becoming reality is an often disenchanting experience.
Apart from Moore there are several fine performances. Andrews gives an interesting performance as his girlfriend who, while clearly loving and devoted to George, also has edges of abrasiveness and pompousness that can bring out the worst in him. Robert Webber is fine as George’s gay musical writing partner which avoids stereotype and in what would turn out to be an atypical role, Brian Dennehy gives an impressively relaxed and convincing performance as a bartender in Mexico.
‘10’ has held up well over several decades to showcase why it was such a popular success back in its day. While Moore, Andrews and Edwards have done better work elsewhere, it’s essential viewing for fans of them. And needless to say, it’s essential viewing for fans of Bo Derek.