August 25, 1980 12:00 PM

Unexpectedly bracing, this Paul Mazursky film about two men (Michael Ontkean and Ray Sharkey) in love with the same woman (Margot Kidder) may seem to be an American Xerox of Jules and Jim. But Truffaut’s 1962 classic, with its morbid denouement, was a link to the great romances of the past. Mazursky, as he showed in An Unmarried Woman and Harry & Tonto, is a determinedly modern filmmaker. This story, which spans the 1970s, speaks of a Me Generation for whom threesomes are not shocking; suicides over love go against the grain. Kidder’s Jeannette (a babe out of Kentucky but not in the woods) is eager to embrace the new morality. Conservative Willie and Phil (a teacher and a photographer) are not. The comedy and pathos come in watching them pretend. Following her lead, they dope, debauch, drop out and go looking for themselves. Only Jeannette likes what she finds. Kidder’s work is the best of her career and Ontkean and Sharkey deliver star-making performances. But the triumph is Mazursky’s. With wicked wit he shows us the darkest side of a life in which the Juliets don’t think love is worth dying for. For true romantics this—not De Palma’s Dressed to Kill—is the horror show of the year. (R)

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