When a Man Loves a Woman

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
When a Man Loves a Woman Movie Poster Image
Exceptional tale of a family in crisis; cursing, alcoholism.
  • R
  • 1994
  • 125 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes responsibility for one's actions and the importance of open communication. Looks at both the limits of and the healing powers of unconditional love and at coming to terms with both factors. Celebrates: loyalty, commitment to one's children, and the value of perseverance and refusing to give up by continuing to work through major challenges in life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are portrayed as both flawed and inspiring as a married couple confronts a wife's alcoholism. As the situation undergoes multiple shifts, both husband and wife become more open to honesty, depth, commitment, and responsibility for one's actions. As parents, despite some outbursts and terrible mistakes, Michael and Alice are well-intentioned, loving, and responsible. Ultimately their shared experience gives them a new sense of what it means to be solid, effective parents. Some ethnic diversity.

Violence

Several alcohol-related violent outbursts: a near drowning; temper tantrums; a mom hits a small child; a fall through glass, resulting in unconsciousness.

Sex

Married couple enjoys kissing, embracing passionately, flirting, and behaving seductively toward each other. In a tragic moment, a naked woman falls through a shower door; no frontal nudity. One character is briefly seen in a bra, later nude from the back.

Language

Occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "pecker-face," "goddamn."

Consumerism

Marlboro cigarettes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcoholic woman is central focus. Many scenes show her drinking openly, secretly, and becoming drunk with regularity. The drunkenness affects her behavior in significant ways, threatening her with the loss of her family, her job, and any sense of herself. Her struggles to regain sobriety and put her life back together are shown in scenes in rehab, AA, and at home. Frequent cigarette smoking.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When a Man Loves a Woman is an adult love story with mature themes. The film confronts the realities of substance abuse as it affects all members of one family with an alcoholic at its center. Because the movie honestly portrays both points of view as a husband and wife struggle to find their way together, it's poignant and complex. Their children are profoundly affected. Disturbing scenes involve heavy drinking, out-of-control behavior, angry outbursts, and two life-threatening "accidents" that are caused by drunkenness. Playful sexuality is part of the fabric of the couple's life together: They flirt, they kiss, and they're sensual, although there's no overt sexual activity. One character is briefly seen in a bra, later nude from the back. Occasional profanity is heard ("f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," "bastard"). Characters smoke. This movie tugs at the heartstrings. It elicits strong emotions, encourages in-depth understanding of self-destructive behaviors, and delivers insightful messages about personal responsibility. At the same time, the characters are so beautifully drawn and so accessible that they will stay with audiences long after the final credits. Given the subject matter and the intensity of the emotional journey, this is a movie only for grown-ups and mature teens.

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What's the story?

Michael (Andy Garcia) and Alice (Meg Ryan) Green and their two little daughters are living an idyllic San Francisco life in WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN until the idyll is shattered by Alice's drinking. Alice kept it hidden -- mostly. Michael didn't see it, or didn't want to see it. Sometimes a child knew but couldn't give voice to her fear. After a series of troubling episodes -- frightening nights when Alice forgets to come home, erratic behavior, several moments during which the children are in jeopardy, and one final devastating accident -- reality can no longer be denied. Michael takes charge; Alice is contrite and wants to get sober. A stint in rehab suggests that the crisis has been averted, but the deeply felt issues for each of them are far from resolved. Each struggles to take responsibility for a share of the heartbreak; each takes the proverbial two steps forward and one step back. Still, their intense love for one another holds them together -- until it doesn't. What's finally at stake for the Greens is the survival of their fragile relationship and the very fabric of their family.

Is it any good?

Telling a timeless story, this film is a heartrending blend of solid writing, insightful direction, and wonderful performances, plus an all-around superior production. While much of the resolution in When a Man Loves a Woman relies on the well-worn doctrine of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, the emotionality of that resolution is powerful and inspiring. So inspiring, in fact, that one can forgive the few missteps (a few pat scenes with Alice's parents, an ending that takes place in an awkward setting, and the fact that it's somewhat long). Both Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia are in top form. Ryan proves she can be more than America's sweetheart; in turn, she's vulnerable, appalling, and formidable. Garcia's arc is played out simply but devastatingly. The two young children, played by Tina Majorino and Mae Whitman (both currently respected adult working actresses) are sheer magic. Interesting to note is that the film is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's earliest roles and that former Saturday Night Live comic, now Minnesota senator, Al Franken, was a co-writer of the script (with award-winner Ron Bass); he also shows up as Garcia's co-pilot. Highly recommended for thoughtful teens and up.   

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how When a Man Loves a Woman stands in stark contrast to many films in which drinking and drunkenness are meant to elicit laughs from teens and young adults or are presented as being "cool." Why is it important for those same teens and young adults to see films like this one, which shows hard truths about alcoholism?

  • A key production element in this movie is the set decoration in the Green family home. Did you notice how the order and/or disorder in the house changed along with the emotional events in the story? How do such filmmaking skills enrich the texture of a movie? 

  • This film is told from the viewpoints of three of the characters: Michael, Alice, and Jess. How did your sympathies change, if at all, depending upon whose viewpoint the film was depicting?

  •  How crucial to the success of the film was the performance by Tina Majorino as 8-year-old Jess? Were you surprised by the abilities of such a young actress? 

  • How do the characters in When a Man Loves a Woman demonstrate perseverance? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

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