Man Trouble

Bob Rafelson

The concept alone is guaranteed to make you smile—an opera singer and a guard dog trainer fall in love. After being burglarized and the victim of disturbing phone calls, opera singer Joan Spruance (Ellen Barkin) finds herself in the market for a rented security dog and enlists the help of shady philandering Jack Nicholson, who despite already being married to his Asian land lady whom he calls Iwo Jima (even in marital counseling), becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding Spruance.

When Joan’s sister Andy Ellerman (Beverly D’Angelo) lets Joan stay in her home while she’s away for foot surgery and in the middle of shopping around her tell-all-book about her marriage to scandal prone businessman Redmond Layls (Harry Dean Stanton), Joan tries to escape her perpetual stalker as well as play detective once Andy goes missing.

Originally written in the 1970’s by Carole Eastman as a project to reunite her with both Bob Rafelson who directed her landmark script Five Easy Pieces and the film’s star Jack Nicholson, delays set in and various actresses including Meryl Streep were attached until it was made in the early 90’s with Nicholson staying true to revive Eastman and Rafelson’s careers (IMDb). Despite the film’s mostly disastrous reviews and the way it pales in comparison to the masterpiece Five Easy Pieces, I found it to be an above average romantic comedy made fresh by its Raymond Chandler inspired film noir plot and inventive bursts of humor, although the finished result and rushed conclusion proved to make Man Trouble a bit uneven in tone.

Eventually the “four or five volatile personalities” involved in the filmmaking process prompted Eastman to share that she wouldn’t make another film with Rafelson and the screenwriter told The Washington Post that she was disappointed by the film also acknowledging its trouble in having a male filmmaker carry out her vision. She concluded that “a male director has a very different set of eyes and experiences, which lead to distortions in the translation,” and despite the fact that as I’d mentioned, the film’s uneven tone shifts from flighty, screwball and breezy to dark and cynical back and forth throughout as if it’s a tennis match, fans of Jack won’t want to miss it.