There’s something terribly askew and misleading in the very title When a Man Loves a Woman (Significant Other, its original name, is no better). This contempo tale of alcoholism and substance abuse does have an underlying tenderness, but its core is sober, vivid and gut-wrenching.
Michael (Andy Garcia) and Alice (Meg Ryan) Green are the seeming paradigm of the yuppie lifestyle. He’s an airplane pilot and she’s a high school guidance counselor. They have a snug little San Francisco home and two well-adjusted pre-teen girls.
But the cracks in the veneer soon become obvious. Alice cannot face a social situation without at least one drink too many. After a near-fatal boating incident on a Mexican vacation, she promises to reform – meaning only that she will hide her drinking problem more ferociously.
The ambition of the screenplay is often staggering. It’s more a case study than a traditional three-act movie fable. The film takes on the logic of a bar crawl, veering toward the conventional only in Luis Mandoki’s direction and with some much appreciated excursions into levity.
Ryan has one of those rollercoaster roles that demands attention. Garcia, as the unexpected villain of the piece, is capable of inflicting enormous damage under the veil of good intentions.