Men Don’t Leave is a quietly moving tale of a widow (Jessica Lange) and her struggle to support her two sons in shabby Baltimore surroundings.
Suggested by Moshe Mizrahi’s 1981 French film La vie continue with Annie Girardot, Men Don’t Leave is directed by Paul Brickman.
The title misleadingly suggests a feminist tract, not the warm-hearted comedy-drama this pic becomes after getting past the disjointed kitchen-sink melodrama of debt-ridden husband Tom Mason’s death and Lange’s selling of the family’s suburban home. The move to Baltimore revives what seemed a terminally ill film and brings it compellingly to life.
Playing the role at first with an unmodulated emotional glaze, the taciturn Lange is pulled back to life by the spirited behaviour of her boys, superbly played by newcomers Chris O’Donnell and Charlie Korsmo; by O’Donnell’s sweet but loopy g.f. Joan Cusack, and by the engagingly offbeat b.f. Arliss Howard.
The film’s dramatic heart is a sequence showing Lange, after losing her job in a blowup against restaurant boss Kathy Bates, descending into a catatonic state and refusing to leave her bed for days as the apartment turns into a quiet vision of hell. It’s a scary piece of acting by Lange, beautifully directed by Brickman, and it turns a somewhat meandering film into a memorable emotional experience.