Jul 27, 2023
Finally getting the treatment it deserves in a gorgeous new edition from Criterion Collection
Chilly Scenes of Winter, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, is a romantic comedy—of sorts. On the surface, it has all the trappings of a rom-com: Man meets woman and quickly falls in love with her; the woman does not return the affections, leading the man to try and win her over. This plot has been done to death in movies, but Chilly Scenes of Winter elevates itself above the crowd by subverting tropes every step of the way. Hard to come by, the film has been released in a gorgeous new edition from the esteemed Criterion Collection.
Chilly Scenes of Winter, based on the Ann Beattie novel of the same name, focuses on love, marriage, and 1970’s lifestyles. The film had a somewhat checkered production history. As recounted on one of the disc’s splendid special features, producers and actors Mark Metcalf (National Lampoon’s Animal House), Amy Robinson (Julie & Julia), and Griffin Dunne (This Is Us) purchased the film rights to the novel. Micklin, who had read the novel and heard the trio had procured the film rights, asked to direct, and they said yes.
Released initially through United Artists in 1979 under the less-than-creative title Head Over Heels, the film was a commercial flop. Part of this can be attributed to United Artist’s indifference to the film, as well as meddling from studio executives. United Artists also were not sure how to market the film, running an ad campaign that portrayed it as a zany romance story—and it is anything but.
However, in 1982, United Artists—through their new United Artists Classics line—decided to give Chilly Scenes of Winter another try. The film’s original producers, as well as Micklin, were given the chance to make the movie they wanted but were unable to in 1979, and all they had to do was cut the original ending.
This new version of the movie was much more successful with critics and has become a cult film. Boutique label Twilight Time released a Blu-ray edition in 2017, which is now out of print; the film has never streamed on any major services either. Thankfully, the Criterion Collection has come to the rescue, saving Chilly Scenes of Winter from obscurity by giving it the loving treatment it deserves.
On the back of the package, Criterion calls Chilly Scenes of Winter an “anti-romantic comedy,” and that is an apt description. Charles (John Heard, of Big and Home Alone), is a civil servant living in Salt Lake City. He meets Laura (Mary Beth Hurt, of Lady in the Water) while at work and becomes smitten with her, as she is temporarily separated from her husband.
Over the next few weeks, Charles and Laura develop a relationship that comes to an end when Laura decides to return to her husband Ox, played by producer Mark Metcalf.
Charles cannot accept the relationship is over, or that it was even much to start with, and becomes obsessed with her to a point modern audiences may find a little uneasy to accept. It is a testament to Heard’s acting that viewers can still find a shred of sympathy for Charles, even when he is clearly in the wrong.
Part of Chilly Scenes of Winter’s appeal is that practically everyone has been in a situation where they were in love with someone who did not reciprocate. Charles is in love with Laura; Laura, on the other hand, is still uncertain about her place in the world after leaving her husband. Laura is confused, as is Charles—he cannot see their relationship is doomed from the start. Mary Beth Hurt plays Laura perfectly and viewers can see, even in their most loving and passionate moments, a spark of uncertainty about her, as if she is not 100 percent into this relationship.
The film’s original ending skewed this ambiguity, opting for something more palatable to mainstream audiences. When Chilly Scenes of Winter was re-released in 1982, the original ending was cut, giving the film a still somehow more satisfying conclusion. Criterion has included the original ending as part of its supplementary features, allowing viewers to make up their own minds on which one is better.
Other supplements on the disc include new interviews with Chilly Scenes of Winter’s production team, as well as a 2005 interview with Mecklin. The two features complement each other well and are a joy to watch, as the creative teams behind the movie share their tragedies and triumphs working on it. The film was clearly a labor of love on the part of everyone in front and behind the camera, and it shows both in the finished product and the disc’s supplemental features.
Forty-four years after its first release, Chilly Scenes of Winter continues to resonate with audiences. Its themes are universal, and they continually topple tropes of the romantic comedy genre. Its DNA can be found in movies such as High Fidelity, Her, and many other subversive romantic comedies. Long hard to find, the Criterion Collection has brought it back into print in an amazing new edition, which you can find here.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. A big, important Screen Rant writer, Shaun has many leather-bound books, but they're far outnumbered by comic books and the smell of rich mahogany lingering in the air.