"A Perfect Couple" comes from a period when Altman was trying to make films through his own Lion's Gate company with financial backing from Fox (courtesy of Alan Ladd, Jr.). Working, in the main, with very slender budgets, he seems to have been trying to do work that could break even financially even when the films didn't expand much beyond the small audiences that most of his movies had typically attracted. In the end, the effort failed. He was rapidly losing the support of even critics who had long been sympathetic, and the audience for small, experimental films was drying up.
Most of the films from the Lion's Gate/Fox period have a flimsy undeveloped quality to them. His work from M*A*S*H to Nashville had all started from someone else's script even though most of those films would do little more than retain the basic structural elements, the rest being altered/improvised during rehearsal and actual shooting. But he had something to work off, react to (or against) and build from. By the time of "A Perfect Couple," Altman's name was showing up as screenwriter (usually in collaboration with someone from a previous film) which is a fair indication that these movies started shooting with little or no script at all, just an idea, some characters, and some sense of where it all should go. The financing was there, and he had to take advantage of it, hoping to pull something off on the spur of the moment. It worked with "3 Women," but he was less successful here and in "Quintet."
Paul Dooley is a middle-aged divorced man living at home where his life is ruled by his rich father (since they're Greeks, his father is naturally played by Titos Vandis). Marta Heflin is a shy aimless young woman who's a member of a rock band and lives with them all in a kind of self-contained community in a downtown L.A. loft. They meet through a computer dating service, come together, fall out with each other, come together again, and fall out. Most of the film deals with their efforts to kindle a romance in spite of the obstacles placed in their way by the respective family groups each belongs to.
Altman seems to have intended a culture clash comedy, and, in some ways, this film grew out of "A Wedding" in which Dooley and Heflin both had roles, and where Altman set two dissimilar families against one another with fair results. Here, though, the cultures that clash are both sketched out so quickly, and with such broad strokes, that "A Perfect Couple" could play as self-parody, if self-parody were so obviously not intended. Dooley makes the best of it. He's able to find (or create) funny moments, but they're just moments. There's not enough here for them to integrate into any kind of whole. Heflin is less successful, but then her character is, in general, so passive that there's not much character to play.
Not much develops here because so much time is given over to the rock band (Keepin Em Off the Streets) that Heflin belongs to. Every time the film starts going somewhere, we get another song that's played out to full length (and there are 11 of them in the movie). The band was formed by Altman cohort (and "Perfect Couple" co-screenwriter) Allan Nicholls, and "A Perfect Couple" seems to exist as much to showcase the band as to tell the film's story. Maybe the thought was that if the band (or any of its songs) hit, that would be enough to propel the movie to some kind of success.
In the end, the movie was dismissed by most as a light curiosity, and it went nowhere. If it's interesting, it's interesting as an experiment on Altman's part to exist in the commercial mainstream making quick, cheap movies that wouldn't need to bring in large audiences to succeed. But Fox, after a management shake-up, lost interest in Altman, and he lost their financial backing before Lion's Gate was able to make anything that succeeded (even on Altman's terms). Altman, for his part, would spend most of the '80's making even smaller, less expensive films in an effort to keep his hand in.
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