This is not a new movie but I had never seen it and after seeing Liza Minnelli in Cabaret and New York, New York, I decided it was time I had. Besides, it’s one of those weeks when there’s not much on the theatre (worth watching). Filmed in 1969, The Sterile Cuckoo was a directorial debut for Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men), and a movie debut for Liza Minnelli, and her first Oscar nomination. I was very familiar with the theme music (also nominated for an Oscar), “Come Saturday Morning” by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn. Mostly this movie was panned by the critics, but most of them agreed that Minnelli was an amazing actress.
This is not so much a haunting love story as it is a psychological exploration of two adolescent misfits who accidentally connect while waiting for the bus heading to their respective colleges. Pooky Adams (Minnelli), whose father sees her off at the Main St. bus depot, clearly cannot relate to him and is anxious to be away from her small town; in her nervousness with others, she babbles on and tells outrageous lies. Also waiting for the bus is Jerry Payne (Wendell Burton), who is a painfully shy geek whose main interests are bugs and photography. Pooky latches on to Jerry, and since they both have difficulty relating to others at college, they begin a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both. For awhile. Jerry begins to develop other relationships as his confidence increases, but Pooky is unable to expand her circle of friends.
When Liza was contemplating doing this movie, she was really drawn to the character and sent the script to her mother, Judy Garland, to see what she thought. Apparently, her mother was a bit confused as to why Liza wanted to do the part. Liza said she thought it was a great part, but what she didn’t tell her mother was that she could really relate to the character. Years later, Pakula said that one of the great things about making this movie was working with Minnelli: “I’ve never seen anybody get more joy out of working and it’s contagious.” (link for quote)
Whether you’re an ardent film buff or just a fan of Liza’s, this is one you should add to your film list — not as an award-winning film, but to round out your view of both Minnelli and Pakula — and see if you agree with the critics. * * * 1/2