Starting Over – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Pakula romantic comedy debuts on Blu-ray
Starting Over Screenshot

Let’s dig into Starting Over. Starting his career as a producer – working in tandem with director Robert Mulligan, with To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) being the high point of their 7-film association – Alan J. Pakula made the transition to the director’s chair with the bittersweet romantic drama The Sterile Cuckoo (1969). For much of the 1970’s, Pakula truly made his name with a trio of thrillers loosely considered as “The Paranoia Trilogy”: Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976). However, he had a change of pace at the end of the decade when he teamed with James L. Brooks to film an adaptation of the Dan Wakefield novel Starting Over. Previously released on DVD by Paramount, Kino has licensed the movie for its Blu-ray debut.

Starting Over (1979)
Released: 05 Oct 1979
Rated: R
Runtime: 105 min
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh, Candice Bergen
Writer(s): Dan Wakefield, James L. Brooks
Plot: A divorced man falls in love, but somehow he can't get over his ex-wife. This affects his love life in comic ways. Based on Dan Wakefield's novel.
IMDB rating: 6.4
MetaScore: 64

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 45 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/30/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 4/5

Upon the discovery of the affair that his wife Jessica (Candice Bergen) has been having, Phil Potter (Burt Reynolds) separates and leaves New York City for Boston to start anew. Though resistant at first, his brother Mickey (Charles Durning) and sister-in-law Marva (Frances Sternhagen) set Phil up on a blind date with nursery schoolteacher Marilyn Holmberg (Jill Clayburgh); what starts off as a very casual relationship soon turns serious as they move in together after a rocky start. However, there’s one major problem: Phil hasn’t completely lost his love for Jessica.

Starting Over capped the 1970’s for Alan J. Pakula on a high note with this abrasive yet sweet comedy about life after marriage. Working from the screenplay by co-producer James L. Brooks – adapting the 1973 novel by Dan Wakefield – Pakula creates a humorous look at finding love and happiness after one of life’s toughest events: the dissolution of a once loving and thriving marriage; many of the comedic situations and tensions don’t feel forced or resort to near histrionics to get the point across (although Phil’s near nervous breakdown in the middle of a Bloomingdale’s store is notable – yet funny – exception). The film also has the benefits of cinematographer Sven Nykvist and composer Marvin Hamlisch – who also created 3 songs for the film with Carole Bayer Sager: “Easy for You”, “Better Than Ever” (which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award) and the titular song – to keep the film feeling fresh without ever feeling like a feature length padded-out version of an hour-long TV sitcom episode. The only downside is that the final third of the film succumbs to rather lackluster conclusion compared to what comes before it in terms of comedic and interpersonal sparks flying; despite that shortcoming, the film benefits from solid performances from its three leads. Overall, Starting Over remains one of the more interesting films in the career of Alan J. Pakula, who demonstrated that he could create memorable moments from comedic and romantic situations as he did in the thrillers that made his name in Hollywood.

Eschewing his trademark mustache here (like he did The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds has one of his most underrated performances of his career playing against type as the low-key Phil Potter; he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Just fresh off of a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), Jill Clayburgh earned another Best Actress Oscar nod (her second) for playing Marilyn, Phil’s latest love after divorcing Jessica; the first encounter between Phil and Marilyn – where she threatens to physically emasculate him with a knife – is one of the film’s most memorable and funny moments. As the ex-wife that Phil can’t completely quit loving, Candice Bergen earned the only Oscar nomination of her career so far; she also sings the film’s three songs in an intentionally grating off-key style for comedic effect (Stephanie Mills sings the radio versions of all three songs). Rounding out the cast here are Charles Durning as Phil’s brother Mickey, Frances Sternhagen as Mickey’s wife – and Phil’s sister-in-law – Marva, Mary Kay Place as Marie, the friend of Marilyn and single mom of two children who literally throws herself at Phil, Austin Pendleton, Wallace Shawn, Jay O. Sanders and Alfie Wise as members of the support group of divorced men Phil attends and Daniel Stern – in one of his earliest film appearances – as a student at the college course that Phil teaches; Kevin Bacon is credited as appearing in the movie (one of his earliest film appearances as well), but his part was apparently removed from the film.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer created by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. Film grain, color palette and fine details are all faithfully presented with only minimal cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and bests the previous Paramount DVD release.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Marvin Hamlisch’s music score are all presented faithfully with strength and clarity with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and surpasses the previous Paramount DVD release.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by film historians Daniel Kremer & Howard S. Berger – Newly recorded for this release, Kremer and Berger share details about the film’s production and their appreciation for the movie as well.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Semi-Tough, Stick, Hustle, Rent-A-Cop, Diary of a Mad Housewife, The Last Married Couple in America, Continental Divide & The Four Seasons

Overall: 4/5

Garnering some critical praise and a decent box office intake, Starting Over is an offbeat yet humorous entry in the careers of both Alan J. Pakula and Burt Reynolds. Kino has likely delivered the best home video version of the movie to date, with a terrific HD transfer and an informative and insightful commentary track for this release. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from the previous DVD release.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Robert Saccone

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Great review! I bought the disc because I loved this movie back when it first came out. I watched it with my wife last weekend and it does hold up. Excellent performances all around.
 

Will Krupp

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Great review, Mychal!

I seriously love this movie; they really don't make adult comedies like this anymore. I got the blu-ray last week and it does, indeed, look stunning. I wasn't expecting it to look as good as it does.

As you mentioned, great performances all around (the stars are incredibly likable even when they're behaving as they shouldn't) and Candice Bergen's first real attempt at comedy (which certainly paid off for her in the long run.) What's not to like?

(This never gets tired!)
 

Wayne Klein

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Reynolds had a run of making some really good movies before he started making movies like Cannonball Run (I’ll admit as entertaining as those kind of movies can be, they are, at least for me bad).
 

lark144

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mark gross
Great review, Mychal!

I seriously love this movie; they really don't make adult comedies like this anymore. I got the blu-ray last week and it does, indeed, look stunning. I wasn't expecting it to look as good as it does.

As you mentioned, great performances all around (the stars are incredibly likable even when they're behaving as they shouldn't) and Candice Bergen's first real attempt at comedy (which certainly paid off for her in the long run.) What's not to like?

(This never gets tired!)

I saw this movie when it came out--it played the theater I managed--and remember loving it, but today I was looking at reviews from The NYTimes, The Boston Phoenix & Roger Ebert and they were all mostly negative. Ebert, for instance, gave the film two stars. I find Mychal's review much more in line with what I recall.

Though I have the disc, I haven't gotten around to watching it all the way through yet.

I did check the visual quality just now. Pretty terrific.

The original dye-transfer prints from Technicolor on this were really extraordinary, with limpid colors and sparkling surfaces that evoked Gustave Caillebotte, turning Boston winters into an impressionist wonderland, while still retaining that realist edge.

I've always considered this Burt Reynolds greatest performance, especially considering he takes a character that is thrown into situations that are funny but illogical, something those negative reviews hemmed and hawed about, yet makes it completely believable. You're with him all the way. Such subtlety, the way he telegraphs his inner turmoil with a shrug of his shoulders, evoking such sympathy. The Boston Phoenix reviewer wrote, oh, it's just another Burt Reynolds vehicle, but it's so much more. He goes really deep, with very few actorly traits. It's not a star turn but something very real. What also comes across is his generosity, how he feeds lines to his co-actors, ands helps them look their best.

And yes Will, Candice Bergen's singing is for the ages. Why she didn't get a Grammy I'll never know.

I also recall Jill Clayburgh came to see a movie at my theater wearing that frumpy red overcoat. She stood out in that cosompolitan New York crowd like a Philly cheesesteak in a caviar bar. A few weeks later I saw STARTING OVER and understood. Apparently, she liked wearing the clothes from the movies she was in, though in this case, I think she might have resisted.
 
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DarkVader

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Great review! One of my favorite comedies of the 1970s. This is the film that convinced me that Candice Bergen could act. I was never a fan of his star vehicles...too much macho posturing for my taste, but Burt Reynolds' performance in this film is one of my favorites. Clayburgh could sit there and read the phone book for all I'd care and I'd hand that woman every acting prize known to man.
 
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