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Used People is a 1992 Americanmarker romantic comedy film directed by Beeban Kidron. The screenplay by Todd Graff, adapted from his 1988 off-Broadway play The Grandma Plays , takes a humorous look at a highly dysfunctional family living in the New York Citymarker borough of Queensmarker circa 1969.

Plot synopsis

Pearl Berman has just returned home from her husband Jack's funeral, her grief disrupted by her many relatives animatedly discussing which parkway offered the best route to the cemetery. Pearl's family tackles any and every subject - from body odor to toilets to Tupperware to borscht - as if it's worthy of a major debate.

Into a household filled with kvetchers steps Joe Meledandri, a distinguished Italian who years ago met Pearl's wayward husband in a bar and convinced him to return to her. He has desired her ever since, and now that Pearl is a widow, Joe feels the time is right to make his move. He invites her for coffee, his first step on the road to seduction.

What remains to be seen is if he can overcome family objections to religious differences and if he's willing to accept Pearl's daughters: the lonely, overweight Bibby and the pretty but psychologically unstable Norma who dresses up as celebrities to escape the grief that has overwhelmed her since the death of her husband and one of their children. At her father's funeral, Norma dresses up the way Jackie Kennedy appeared at the funeral of her husband; appears as Marilyn Monroe as she serves her surviving son his breakfast; and also impersonates Faye Dunaway and Barbra Streisand among others. And those are just some of the crazy relatives that come as part of the package.

Principal cast

Principal production credits

Critical reception

In her review in the New York Times, Janet Maslin observed, "As directed by Beeban Kidron, [the film] makes an international issue out of an Italian-Jewish courtship. It also slathers the ethnic equivalent of corn onto every sentimental scene."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "The movie is by turns serious, satirical, bittersweet, maudlin, satirical, romantic and farcical... MacLaine is a pro and survives the material... We care about her enough, indeed, to wonder if meeting the Mastroianni character is really the best thing that could have happened to her. He doesn't often seem like a real human in this movie; he's more like an all-purpose writer's device. The odds are against any sane person being able to behave like this man... what the movie could not overcome, for me at least, is the lack of any convincing romantic chemistry between [the two]."

Variety stated, "A modern, absurdist sensibility informs the soap opera Used People... which harks back to '50s weepies... MacLaine's precise acting is laudatory and balanced by a very sympathetic turn by twinkle-eyed Mastroianni, in his best English-language role by far. The support ensemble is excellent."

Rita Kempley of the Washington Post said, "Used People wants to be Moonstruck with matzo balls, but it's less an eccentric romantic comedy than an icky three-layered Jewish mother joke... it's rich in character if rather trite in theme and scene."

In The New Yorker, Michael Sragow observed, "Life goes on — for the audience, seemingly forever — in yet another ethnic comedy-drama ... In the end, love conquers everything from religious differences to mental illness: everything, that is, except the forced eccentricity and bickering stereotypes in Todd Graff's script."

In his review of the videotape release, Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly rated the film C- and added, "Everything's in italics in this Jewish Moonstruck... MacLaine honks nasally ... Mastroianni talks in spumoni aphorisms... the score oompahs with grating merriment as characters parade cutesy tics instead of human traits. With stars as gifted as Jessica Tandy, Sylvia Sidney, and Kathy Bates drowning in the tough-talking treacle, it's one of those movies that gives New York a worse name than it already has."

Awards and nominations

Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Shirley Maclaine was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The Casting Society of America nominated Mary Colquhoun for the Artios Award for Best Casting for a Dramatic Feature Film.


The film was set in 1969, and yet several of the characters referenced The Graduate as though it had just recently been released; The Graduate was released in 1967.


  1. The Grandma Plays at the New York Times
  2. New York Times review
  3. Chicago Sun-Times review
  4. Variety review
  5. Washington Post review
  6. The New Yorker review
  7. Entertainment Weekly review

External links

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