By People Staff
November 11, 1985 12:00 PM

Widely hailed as one of the year’s best films, Twice in a Lifetime has been compared with such Oscar winners as Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment. Hardly. Impeccable writing, directing and casting kept those emotional family dramas from toppling into the pit of soap opera. Twice, which might just as well have been titled Search for Tomorrow, unabashedly dives right in. Absorbing, yes; but beware of confusing contrivance with craft. Gene Hackman and Ellen Burstyn play a working class, suburban Seattle couple in a boring 30-year marriage. He’s a well-meaning slug; she’s a couch potato, happy with game shows and buying presents for her grandchildren with the spare bucks she earns sweeping up in a beauty salon. Hackman’s 50th-birthday celebration precipitates a crisis. At his favorite pub he meets a barmaid, played by the gorgeous, savvy Ann-Margret. Don’t ask why she falls for Hackman. It’s simply a given in Colin (Chariots of Fire) Welland’s patronizing screenplay, with which the formidable cast fights a losing battle. Soon the taciturn Hackman is whispering come-ons to A-M: “You’re my round, sweet-smelling female.” After the initial shock Burstyn accepts the end of her marriage. She dyes her hair blond and attends a male strip show (fast becoming the new movie cliché for consciousness-raising). Accepting too is the couple’s younger daughter, nicely done by Ally (St. Elmo’s Fire) Sheedy Older married daughter Amy (Places in the Heart) Madigan, however, is furious, dragging her mother and young child along to challenge her father and his girlfriend with a loud, public outburst. Director Bud (Divorce, American Style) Yorkin doesn’t have the hounds of hell yapping along at Madigan’s heels, but he throws in everything else. There hasn’t been a confrontation scene like this since the early talkies, when Mom regularly sent Junior to the barroom to shame Poppa back home. Madigan is undeniably strong but irritatingly one-note. One waits in vain for someone to shout back, “Grow up!” The same vain hope applies to waiting for the movie to dig beneath its intriguing surface. As it stands, the only award Twice in a Lifetime deserves is Best Daytime Drama of 1955. (R)