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Crazy Love   C

Magnolia Pictures / Shoot the Moon Productions

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Dan Klores (co-directed by Fisher Stevens)
Writer: Dan Klores
Cast: Burt Pugach, Linda Pugach, Jimmy Breslin.

Review by Rob Vaux

You say "psychotic codependency" like it's a bad thing.

The subject matter of Crazy Love is so lurid, so drenched in shocking tabloid details, that the filmmakers need only point their cameras at their subjects in order to meet their goals. The question is whether those goals are illuminating or merely tawdry. I confess that the film held me in rapt fascination -- the same way a two-headed calf at the carnival would. If you're in the mood for breathless exploitation, you won't find a stranger or more horrifying movie this year. But if you want anything more than a circus sideshow, Crazy Love will likely leave you cold.

Having said that, circus sideshows don't come any more stunning than this. It entails the lifelong relationship between Burt Pugach and his wife Linda, who, as young New York professionals in the late 1950s, seemed to have everything going for them. Burt was a wealthy lawyer with a thriving practice, Linda a lovely woman with a string of promising suitors. Burt saw her on the street one day and immediately knew that she was the one. They dined, they dated, they took rides on his private plane; the skies couldn't have been bluer. Director Dan Klores and co-director Fisher Stevens engage the Pugaches in typical documentary style -- interposing modern-day interviews with family photos, newspaper clippings, and stock footage from the era. The sight of the elderly, slightly addled couple and their friends and family stands in contrast to the bright but oily world that their earlier selves inhabited. Linda's radiant beauty can still be seen around the corners of her omnipresent sunglasses, while Burt's classy facade stands up well against the skinny dweeb his early photos made him out to be.

But "facade" is the operating word here, for as Crazy Love goes on, its vague sense of unease grows more and more intense. Burt's law practice, while lucrative, isn't quite as upstanding as it seems. He's a grade-A ambulance chaser, flirting dangerously with disbarment through an endless series of dodgy claims and legal hair-splitting. It gets worse. He's already married, to a woman well-aware of his dalliances but adamant about the bonds of matrimony. Linda initially tries to break off the affair, but will agree to see him again if he gets a divorce. The next day, he claims the deed is done, and produces signed papers to prove it. They're later revealed to be false. She breaks up with him again, but he won't take no for an answer. Contrition leads to insistence, which leads to active stalking, which leads to increasingly demented threats of violence. It ends -- for the moment anyway -- with Burt locked up in prison and Linda's sunglasses taking on ominous new significance.

Crazy Love unfolds each step in this progressive insanity with a showman's glee, peeling back layer after layer before our disbelieving eyes. More disturbing than the facts of the case, though, is the darkness it shows within its subjects' souls. The staged interviews are largely calm and even a little dull, broken by a few words or hinted phrases suggesting unsettling depths beneath. In stark contrast, the filmmakers swap those quietly disturbing moments with screaming headlines from the likes of Geraldo and the New York Post, as well as a new series of 1950s photographs that make Burt look like some crazed clone of Rasputin. Such manipulations arrive with thundering finality, blurting out what the interviews only hint at and slipping the filmmakers' own conclusions over the otherwise graceful exposition.

That gracefulness provides the film with its best moments: allowing the Pugaches to tell their story in their own words, and hinting at subtleties which may help us comprehend how they could have arrived at such a state. Yet at the same time, it remains too fixated on the salacious surface details to allow its better instincts to thrive. Burt evinces traits of a pure sociopath, unable to distinguish between the most basic concepts of right and wrong. Linda, her life ruined by this man, makes a seemingly genuine peace with the wounds he inflicted despite her fatally injured self-esteem. Such impressions come far too easily, positing quick answers that the film's own subjects defy with their testimony. Certainly, the obvious reasons for their perverse union can be seen -- money, loneliness, the need for a spotlight -- but Crazy Love couches them as simplistic creature comforts, with only the barest suggestion of the complexities driving them. Indeed, the Pugaches themselves seem unable to articulate exactly why they finally arrive where they have in life. But whether that's their own doing or the film's inability to engage them more forcefully never becomes clear.

To its credit, Crazy Love works to balance their troubled emotions with the understanding they eventually reach, but a story as preposterously true as theirs needs more insight in order to convey the real reasons why a relationship could reach such extremes. Without more insight into their minds, Crazy Love becomes just an upscale version of checkout-counter pulp, happy to give us a peek behind the curtain without the insight required to elevate what we see. The experience leaves us knowing what happened to be sure -- and believe me, it's a wild ride if you're in the right mood -- but without more substance to ponder, we become little more than rubberneckers at a particularly engrossing accident.

Review published 07.11.2007.

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