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3 Women
The late Robert Altman seemed to be channeling Ingmar Bergman as the producer, director, and writer of 1977,s Three Women, a moody and bizarre story of what seems to be a by-numbers- friendship that, with a couple of brilliantly executed plot twists, turns into a psychological acid trip that the viewer doesn't see coming.

Millie (Shelley Duvall) is a self-absorbed young woman who works as a physical therapist at a hospital in the California desert, who befriends a new employee named Pinky (Sissy Spacek), a painfully shy young woman who comes to worship Millie and shortly after they meet, also becomes Millie's roommate. It's not long before Millie finds Pinky to be an albatross around her neck, but an accident that puts Pinky into a coma changes everything that we have seen up to this point. Millie and Pinky also form a relationship with Willie (Janice Rule), a pregnant artist with a fascination for painting erotic images on the bottom of a swimming pool and with guns, who is married to a womanizing jerk named Edgar.

This was a real oddity in the Robert Altman resume, as it has a more structured story that a lot of Altman's more famous work, though some scenes still have that free form, improvised feeling that Altman is so famous for. Altman does take his time setting up this story for us so that the the changes that occur in the second act are all the more startling. As we are introduced to Millie and Pinky, we learn that Millie considers herself a social butterfly that is pretty much all in her head. Most of her co-workers can't stand her but she has no idea, so she considers goody-two shoes Pinky a hindrance to her alleged glamorous lifestyle that is really all in Millie's head, but Pink's accident changes all that.

Altman initially challenges viewer patience here because as the film begins, what appears to be exposition seems to go on forever, but it turns out the detail that Altman puts into establishing the Millie character during the film's first half was essential in making the second half of the film work, because it flies in the face of everything we've seen up to that point, where stark realism becomes replaced by nightmarish symbolism that effectively anchors the changes we get in the Millie and Pinky characters that eventually have the viewer wondering if everything we've seen up to that point is an elaborate nightmare, except we don't know whose nightmare it is.

Altman gets strong assists from cinematographer Chuck Rosher and I loved the creepy music by Gerald Busby, which reminded me of Mancini's music for Wait Until Dark. Altman also gets extraordinary performances from Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in the leading roles. Spacek is especially impressive in a performance that should have earned her a supporting actress nomination. Looking back on the supporting actress nominees for 1977, it was obvious that Spacek was robbed of the nomination she should have received by Leslie Browne for her dreadful performance in The Turning Point. This was a riveting motion picture experience that isn't for everyone, but Altman fans will be in heaven.