Irene in Time
Dir. Henry Jaglom
It’s hard not to envy a guy like Henry Jaglom. Born in 1941 to an über-wealthy family in England, Jaglom sort of fell into the film world in his adult life, becoming close friends with luminaries like Dennis Hopper, helping out with production duties on Easy Rider, and co-producing one of the best war documentaries ever made, 1974’s Hearts and Minds. Soon after establishing his film industry cred with the aforementioned projects, Jaglom was free to make the films that he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them — films that, for the most part, haven’t been very good. Irene in Time is no exception.
Irene (played extraordinarily well by Tanna Frederick) is a horrible cliché. She is the kind of female character who only a man would deem fit to invent. Completely unable to establish lasting relationships with men, she's crippled by a near obsession with her father, a gambler and philanderer who abandoned her when she was a teenager. Despite his remarkable character flaws, she remembers her father as the perfect male, an archetype by which to measure the various men she meets and frightens away throughout the course of the film.
Not realizing at first the vast importance of her father in her life, Irene nonetheless assumes there is something wrong with her. A series of pseudo-verité poolside conversations with her gal-pals reveals a substantial collection of dating “rule books.” After following these books to the letter, Irene is baffled by men's reactions to her. While this setup could have opened the door to a critique of modern society’s insistence that women should feel bad about themselves no matter what, Jaglom glosses over the societal implications of Irene’s neuroses and implies that the psychological health of all women (or, at least all the women at the pool) is dependent on the influence of their fathers. Well. That's terribly original.
When she finally finds what she believes to be the love of her life, Irene triumphantly proclaims she doesn't need the dozens of dating manuals she’s amassed over the years and gleefully throws them into the fireplace of her palatial estate, to the approving glances of her giddy female companions. She has finally found someone to — and this is a direct quote — “fill Daddy’s spot” in her life, and can move on. Heavens to Murgatroid! Was this really happening on the screen I saw before me?
Jaglom really seems to believe that all women are doomed to be disappointed by men, because they are necessarily in love with their fathers, who can never adequately be replaced. He almost goes so far as to say the only way a grown woman can truly outrun her father's influence is through lesbianism, which he presents as an inauthentic escape from reality: In one completely forced scene, the filmmaker shows us a gaggle of giggly adult women kissing each other for practice. For a man who cut his teeth during the heady days of the sexual revolution, Jaglom displays a remarkably prudish and antiquated sensibility concerning same-sex relationships.
A subplot of the film is Irene’s singing career, which utilizes the music of Harriet Schock. Scenes of Irene in the studio recording an album with friends are awkward and heavy-handed, the music itself comprised of slightly-smooth vocal jazz numbers that might’ve worked in the early 1980s. The music provides an apt metaphor for the film and its director: Both are embarrassingly past their prime.