May 20, 1991 12:00 PM

Lisa Richards, Mary Crosby

If someone gives you the choice to see this movie or count out 35,000 jelly beans to fill one of those carnival-game jars, go for the jelly beans.

While the film was directed by that cult favorite and master of turgidity Henry (Sitting Ducks, Someone to Love) Jaglom, it is better than most of his films in one respect: He doesn’t appear in it. Other than that, though, it employs his usual pseudodocumentary, pretentious style, which hinges on coming up with a bunch of unlikable characters who have nothing to say and letting them say it for almost two hours.

Richards (Rolling Thunder) is a California woman hosting a party to celebrate her 40th birthday, Crosby’s 30th and Marlena Giovi’s 50th. The movie consists of a couple of dozen women at the party talking to each other and the camera in ostentatiously artsy quick cuts. Mostly they talk about eating: “If I wanted to have dessert, I’d have dessert. ‘Cause it’s a normal thing to have dessert.” “I’d much rather be me than you. When I’m fat, I always think I’m thin. When you’re thin, you think you’re fat.” “Food is the only thing that will love me and comfort me and be good to me 24 hours a day.” “I’m still looking for a man who can excite me as much as a baked potato.”

Snatches of this are funny. Much of the dialogue appears to be improvised, however, and just drivels out. The food obsession, sweeping across the whole crowd of well-dressed, well-spoken, privileged women, soon becomes an offensive self-indulgence. And ultimately the man-trashing and shallow behavior raises a suspicion that this is just backhanded misogyny. There is certainly nobody in the crowd who rises above all the fatuous behavior.

Richards, while her strong resemblance to Amy Madigan is a distraction, is effectively anguished. Frances Bergen (Candice’s mother) as Richards’s mother, Crosby as a devoted wife, and Gwen Welles as a gossipy bitch all have good moments.

Taken together, though, the constant whining about eating, bulimic talk of throwing up, and discussion of diets grows increasingly tiresome. By the time a real crisis of sorts does develop, the characters have all forfeited their right to anyone’s attention. (R)

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