Aug. 15, 2005
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)
Grade: 77/100

Director: Hy Averback
Stars: Peter Sellers, Joyce Van Patten, Leigh Taylor-Young

What it's about. Establishment square Harold (Peter Sellers) retreats from a marriage to clinging Joyce (Joyce Van Patten), instead shacking up with free love flower child Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) and adopting her lifestyle. But has he escaped one set of traps for another?

How I felt about it. As a satire, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! has no mercy on either the establishment or the love freaks. Both are ripe for ridicule. To please friends and family, Harold is forced into a relationship (Joyce) and occupation (big city lawyer) that are overwhelmingly stressful to him.

No wonder he quickly falls for nubile Nancy. It's not only her body and her peaceful spirit he admires. Also, a branch in the road has appeared, one that had been there all along, but had been written off as preposterous. Under the influence of Nancy, however, why not reject his past, and adopt the seemingly simple life of a hippie?

Blinded by love, he can't see that once the relationship grows stale, so will his new life, which has little else to recommend it. Pretentious philosophy and disappated drug use gives way to freeloading strangers and a sink full of dirty dishes.

At the movies end, Harold is adrift. Neither of the two roads are for him. But he's elated: all past troubles are behind him, and he can approach life with a slate clean of responsibilities and prohibitions.

Since Harold is for a time caught between two worlds, unsure of which road to take, he is able to see the weaknesses of both lifestyles. He notices the hypocrisy of fellow lawyer Murray (Herb Edelman), who professes love for his wife while lusting like and adolescent after every hottie who catches his eye. He recognizes the madness of marying someone just to mark progress in the relationship, or of buying creamer 'on sale' when you already have a shelf full of it.

Likewise, six hours of "Mondo Teeth" is too much even for the converted, and if Nancy is painting a stranger's back, soon she won't be back either. Free love works both ways, easy come and easy go. Want her or not, Joyce is apt to be more loyal, and the same can be said for his 'square' mother and job.

How others will see it. I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! is funny. A hippie wagon becomes a hearse to a square funeral. Squares get stoned on brownies and just think they've a great bakery. A transvestite talks like Joe Friday, without a hint of self-consciousness. The funny bits will be enjoyed, even if the message (every culture has its dead end) is lost.