The Lonely Lady

the-lonely-lady-rev The Lonely Lady  (1983)    Universal/Drama    RT: 92 minutes    Rated R (nudity, strong sexual content, rape, language, drug use, mature themes)    Director: Peter Sasdy    Screenplay: Ellen Shepard, John Kershaw and Shawn Randall    Music: Charlie Calello    Cinematography: Brian West    Release date: September 30, 1983 (US)    Cast: Pia Zadora, Lloyd Bochner, Bibi Besch, Joseph Cali, Anthony Holland, Jared Martin, Ray Liotta, Carla Romanelli, Giovanni Rizzo, Olivier Pierre, Kendal Kaldwell, Lou Hirsch.    Box Office: $1.2 million (US)


 One of the greatest bad movies of the 80s, The Lonely Lady is 100% pure trash. It’s an adaptation of Harold Robbins’ 1976 trashy best seller about a female screenwriter’s rough journey to success in male-dominated Hollywood. It falls in the same category as other trash novels brought to the big screen- e.g. The Other Side of Midnight, The Betsy and Bloodline- with its soap opera trappings and all the melodrama that comes with the territory. It stars Pia Zadora, undisputedly one of the worst actresses of all time. She was married to Israeli multimillionaire industrialist Meshulam Riklis at the time; he put up half the money for The Lonely Lady. It was his second failed attempt (after 1982’s Butterfly) to catapult his wife into superstardom. Pia is wonderfully terrible in it.

 She plays Jerilee Randall, an aspiring screenwriter who deals with one abusive male jerk after another as she attempts to achieve her goal of having her own screenplay produced. It starts in high school right after she wins a creative writing award. She goes to a pool party where she’s raped with a garden hose by some creep (Liotta in his debut role) who gets away with it because his family’s rich. A few scenes later, Jerilee marries prominent screenwriter Walter Thornton (Bochner, Point Blank), the father of one of her classmates. The marriage ultimately falls apart and not because of his erectile dysfunction. It’s because she dared to rewrite lines in one of screenplays that turned out to be an improvement over what he wrote. Jealousy turns him into an abusive bully and she leaves him.

 the lonely ladyIt’s all downhill for Jerilee as she keeps getting involved with a-holes like the married actor, George Ballentine (Martin, Dallas), with whom she has an affair that culminates with an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion. She then becomes involved with a sleazy club owner, Vincent DaCosta (Cali, Saturday Night Fever), who claims to have connections in Hollywood that can get her screenplay made. Instead, he pimps her out to a skeevy Italian couple he passes off as producers. He laughs about it afterwards.

 It’s the final straw for Jerilee. She goes back to her apartment and has a full-blown nervous breakdown. She takes a shower fully clothed, screams and wrecks her place. The topper is when the keys on her typewriter turn into the faces of all the people that did her wrong (a hallucination). It’s one of the most unintentionally funny scenes I’ve ever seen.

 I forgot to tell you that The Lonely Lady is a flashback framed by Jerilee arriving at some unnamed prestigious awards show where she’s up for Best Screenplay. PLOT SPOILER! She wins and uses her acceptance speech to denounce Hollywood as a system in which she had to “f--k her way to the top”. It’s the best use of the f-word since Joan Crawford’s warning to Pepsi executives in Mommie Dearest (“Don’t f--k with me, fellas!”).

 Setting aside its camp value momentarily, let’s talk about The Lonely Lady as a mere movie. It’s bad in a lot of ways. The narrative is filled with gaps. In one scene, Jerliee’s mother (Besch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) voices her disapproval of her daughter’s relationship with the much older Walter. In the very next scene, she’s at their wedding reception all smiles and well wishes. What changed? Jerilee develops a drinking problem as the marriage crashes and burns. Walter calls her out on it during an argument. After that, it’s never even alluded to again.

 Also, and this is a pretty big deal, Jerilee seems to get over the garden hose rape rather quickly. You would think that she’d be traumatized by not only the attack but also her rapist not facing criminal charges because he’s from Beverly Hills and can afford a better lawyer. Jerilee doesn’t even appear particularly depressed. It doesn’t make sense. This is just bad writing, not just on the part of Robbins but also the screenwriters.

 Zadora, whose first movie role is actually one of the Martian children in 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, is horribly miscast. She was nearly 30 at the time of filming yet we’re expected to believe her as an innocent schoolgirl with pigtails in the early scenes. She looks like a hooker playing a twisted sex game with a john that fantasizes about little girls. Pia has spunk, I’ll give her that. She’s also easy on the eyes. However, she has next to nothing in the way of actual talent. After The Lonely Lady, her only other major role is the Beatnik Chick in John Waters’ Hairspray (1988) but we all know that was novelty casting on his part. Reportedly, Pia hated The Lonely Lady so much that she wanted her husband to buy the movie and halt its release permanently.

 Since I don’t want to be unfair to Pia (who I’m sure is a sweet lady), I must point out that all of acting in The Lonely Lady is various degrees of bad. Bochner hams it up as the cruel husband who takes credit for his wife’s script doctoring. And what brilliant words does Jerilee contribute to her hubby’s screenplay. She has a grieving mother say “Why? Why?!” at her son’s funeral instead of the monologue Walter wrote for the actress playing the part. He goes from warm to cold just like that. Cali really camps it up as Vincent. Anybody with half a brain can see through this guy’s BS. He’s so obviously a pimp. How does Jerilee NOT see it? Honestly, Besch is the only one that emerges with a scintilla of dignity. Her character is inconsistent but she makes the best of it.

 There seems to be a lack of proper nouns in The Lonely Lady universe. Jerilee attends “The Awards”. I guess they couldn’t get the rights to “The Oscars”. When two characters discuss a movie they’ve just seen, the conversation goes something like this: “I liked her better” and “I liked him better”. The sex scenes border on ridiculous. In one of them, we get to see Walter’s very, VERY hairy back. In another, there’s a sweet continuity gaffe. In order to help her husband finish, Jerilee climbs on top and straddles him. It then cuts to shot of their feet with her toes pointing up. The makers used this very shot just moments before.

 There are numerous reasons The Lonely Lady is a camp classic. One of the main ones is the wonderfully awful theme song “The Lonely Lady” sung by Larry Graham. It opens and closes the movie. It sets the right tone for 92 minutes of glitzy trash. The dialogue is horrendous. When told of her daughter’s mental state, her mother replies “She’s always been difficult.” The Lonely Lady works best as an unintentional comedy. It really wants to be taken seriously which makes it that much funnier. It put an end to Peter Sasdy’s career as a feature film director. He previously directed a few Hammer movies- Taste the Blood of Dracula, Countess Dracula and Hands of the Ripper. He won a Golden Razzie for The Lonely Lady  which won five additional Razzies including Worst Picture, Worst Actress and, ironically, Worst Screenplay. That’s the final insult, a movie about screenwriters with a bad screenplay. This is a must-see for connoisseurs of bad movies.  

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