Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Coma was released in the first months of 1978, just weeks before Coming Home and, soon after, An Unmarried Woman. But whereas Jane Fonda would eventually win an Oscar for Coming Home, and Jill Clayburgh's performance as the unmarried woman became one of the iconic performances of the decade, Genevieve Bujold's performance in Coma, relatively speaking, flew under the radar.

Bujold's Dr. Susan Vance was a rare heroine in an action thriller. After her good friend dies under mysterious circumstances at Boston General Hospital, where Dr. Vance works, she investigates. She uncovers links to unexplained deaths under similar circumstances of other young adults at the hospital. Bujold's Dr. Vance is intelligent, courageous, independent, a worthy precursor to Jodie Foster's heroine in Silence of the Lambs. If her performance was not fully appreciated at the time, though, it's likely because the film itself is underwhelming. Michael Crichton directed from a screenplay based on a novel by Robin Cook.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

David Thomson

“Coma … is only a thriller with an unusually real setting and a crazy plot. It is made decently, without ulterior ambition. But Geneviève Bujold is so remarkable in it that she makes one conscious of how a steady career has neglected her real virtues. She is past that hard sexual radiance so arresting in La Guerre est Finie (66, Alain Resnais). But her face is as sharp and watchful as ever, more drawn than ripe now. She ignores the silliness of Coma and goes about her job like a young mother with too much to do. A gritty actuality lies within her dramatic vulnerability, and in Coma it amounts to heroic courage and persistence. I suspect she could do as much to sustain a far better film, and I anticipate in the next few years either a trailing away or a few parts that reveal a great actress.”

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film
Second Edition (1980), p 76

Pauline Kael

“In Coma, Geneviève Bujold, with her piquant features, her waif's face and sharp jaw, is like a soft little furry animal--a mink--with a dirty mind….

“…. Even the actors seem vacuous and immaculate, disinfected of any traces of personality. But not Bujold. There's no way to sanitize this actress. With her slightly moldy Peter Pan pertness, she's irreducibly curious--that's her sexy-witch essence. This is the first Hollywood picture in which Bujold has the central starring role, and she manages to sustain her performance by snuggling deep inside the shallow material. [Nice trick.] Dr. Wheeler's suspiciousness--the sneaky expressions she gets when she doesn't go along with what her superiors are telling her--is all we've got to hang on to in this sterile environment. There is not an instant when her closed-in face isn't intent; thin-skinned, touchy, she seems almost to sniff out fakery. When she crawls around in the dark places of the hospital … she's totally engaged in what she's doing, in the most sensory, little-beastie way. Climbing and wriggling around, high up, trying to get a foothold in a slippery place, she peels off her panty hose, and it would not seem surprising if the striptease continued. As she goes from one dangerous situation to the next, the narrative trap tightens: you fear for her safety, and the suspense gets you in the stomach, and maybe the chest, too….”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, February 6, 1978
Taking It All In, p. ??

Andrew Sarris

“For once, Geneviève Bujold is ideally cast. She seems dedicated enough to go outside official channels in search of the truth, and demented enough to arouse doubts about her sanity among the very people who might help her. In fact, it is 50-50 whether the wild look in her eyes is attributable to persecution or paranoia…. [O]ne wonders why a suspicious physician in what purports to be a Boston hospital does not simply ring up a local muck raking publication like The Phoenix or The Real Paper and spill the beans.

“Instead, she confronts all the menacing hirelings of a high-level medical conspiracy single-handedly. She climbs steep ladders that would afflict me with vertigo 10 times over, and, in the process, she very symbolically removes her pantyhose to facilitate her progress. As the discarded pantyhose drift downward one senses that a new feminist spirit is rising upward in compensation. No more female frippery for an unencumbered creature who can hold her own in pluck, ingenuity, and ruthlessness with the most vicious villains, even in the icy confines of a morgue.

“Gradually the message becomes manifest: Our heroine shall prevail against all odds… [W]e know her survival is guaranteed by the zeitgeist….

“…. [T]here is never in Coma any foundation of normality on which to build a tower of terror. The movie is gothic from the word go, and, fortunately, Geneviève Bujold, as a dominating female protagonist, is spunky and zesty enough to make the whole enterprise work as harmless escapist entertainment.”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, February 13, 1978

Molly Haskell

“… [T]he doctor characters--Geneviève Bujold…; Michael Douglas…; Richard Widmark…; and Rip Torn … are strictly no-frills functional….

“Geneviève Bujold, who must single-handedly probe the nefarious goings-on, is perfect as the persistently nosy doctor. The fact that she is a woman in a man's world heightens the element of danger: Her suspicions can be dismissed by the Hippocratic fraternity as the ramblings of a hysterical woman, while from her point of view it is hardly pure paranoia to suspect your anxious lover would like to exchange you for a more submissive model. In the sexual dynamics of the new two-career relationship, there is more room for doubt and suspicion than in the one-career marriage of Rosemary's Baby.

“Although Crichton is sufficiently aware of these possibilities to have raised them, he doesn't develop them to the fullest, doesn't get the emotional and psychological juice out of the sexual paranoia and political intrigue of the hospital world….”

Molly Haskell
New York, date ?

Stephen Farber

“…. Susan is immensely resourceful throughout the movie, yet we are asked to accept that she would make the colossal blunder of confiding all her discoveries to the very doctor who's masterminded the conspiracy….

“…. I hope that some critics don't try to praise the movie because it has a feminist angle, with a woman playing detective for a change. All that Coma proves is that a thriller with a female protagonist can be just as junky as a thriller with a male protagonist.”

Stephen Farber
New West, date ?

Michael Sragow

".... Though it lacks the kicks and tone of a classic horror thriller, it has considerable virtues of its own. Coms's heroine (Genevieve Bujold) has more character and heart than the heroes of most thrillers, and when the movie veers towards sci-fi and horror, Crichton conjures eerie, metaphoric images....

".... Crichton brought a special enthusiasm to Coma. 'When we started work early in '76, the recent "women's movies" had not yet appeared. Coma had that rarity-a strong heroine with an important job and hence a personality structure similar to a traditional male's. Coma is still unique, because its heroine has the Paul Newman role-her womanhood only becomes an issue as part of the story.'

"Nowhere has Crichton been more astute than in choosing Genevieve Bujold for his lead: her performance may at last make her a star. As the doctor who risks her career and then her life to discover why healthy patients lapse into coma, she's on-screen for all but a few minutes. Whether knocking heads with the bureaucrats who block her path, or collapsing under the strain, she draws our sympathy like an emotional electromagnet. ('The only other actress who could have pulled it off is Jane Fonda,' says Crichton.) Bujold's sexiness and sass are as crucial to the movie's success as its suspense ploys. You root for her, though she alienates both villains and good guys. She even gives edge to the movie's blandly "lyrical" North Shore interlude. Who cares that Bujold's frolic on the beach is a cliché, when she so acutely conveys sensual release?

"Bujold must be the first lead in a thriller who has to dispose of pantyhose before moving into action. She may put off insecure men, but vocal women at a preview audience took her to their hears: 'She's like Nancy Drew grown up,' said one. Crichton admires Bujold's stamina and professionalism. 'The shadows under her eyes come from working three-and-a-half months with only two or three days rest. And that look fits the role. We could have made her more glamorous, but she wanted to do it straight, which is courageous in the closed world of Hollywood. You know someone there will tell her, 'Darling, you really should have used more make-up'.....”

Michael Sragow
Boston Phoenix, date?