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USA 1971
Directed by
Mike Nichols
97 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Carnal Knowledge

Despite the fact that it is difficult to accept Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel as callow freshmen, the beginning of Carnal Knowledge, which has Sandy (Garfunkel) and Jonathan (Nicholson) sharing their juvenile thoughts on women, plays like the late 1940s equivalent of Superbad (2007)

After that somewhat awkward introduction the film jumps forward to the 1960s to reconnect with the still-insecure men, Sandy now an M.D. married with kids and bored out of his mind, Jonathan a lawyer and chronic skirt-chaser. Periodically they meet up and as in their college days compare notes on their unsatisfying sex lives.

Based on a screenplay by Jules Feiffer, Carnal Knowledge serves well as a critique of male chauvinism we the audience being given a privileged view of the two men’s histories one descending into a spiral of misogyny and impotence, the other awakening to the new values of the counter-cultural Zeitgeist. Not that Nichols’s film is any kind of moral allegory. Rather, the director keeps close to his characters deftly making his (and Feiffer's) point through their specifics of their stories.

Jack Nicholson, still in the early stage of his brilliant career gives a strong performance with Ann-Marget turning in one of her best, the two working convincingly together. Art Garfunkel is rather bland as an actor but that suits his character. Candice Bergen plays her usual glamorous young WASP with subtlety as she drifts into an invidious dilemma.

Although it has lost some of its impact and now feels somewhat dated Carnal Knowledge remains one of the better films of a high-water period of American film-making. 




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