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The Sterile Cuckoo (22-Oct-1969)

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Writer: Alvin Sargent

From novel: The Sterile Cuckoo by John Nichols

Music: Fred Karlin

Producer: Alan J. Pakula

Keywords: Romantic Comedy

NameOccupationBirthDeathKnown for
Liza Minnelli
12-Mar-1946   Cabaret


Liza Minnelli   ...   Pookie Adams
Wendell Burton   ...   Jerry Payne
Tim McIntire   ...   Charlie Schumaker


Review by anonymous (posted on 6-Sep-2006)

Predating the subsequent Yuppie movement and taking place during the hippie movement, the settings for The Sterile Cuckoo are purer than WASP New England private colleges circa 1968. The film has a simple, sweet and undeniably intoxicating story line of a love relationship between two incoming freshmen attending separate but nearby private colleges in Upstate New York. Based on the book by John Nichols, directed by Alan J. Paluka, and screenplay adaptation by Alvin Sargent the unlikely love affair between the conservative and preppy establishment Jerry Payne (played by Wendall Burton- Fortune and Men's Eyes), and the anti-establishment Pookie Adams (Liza Minelli)evokes the innocence of first love between two lonely first year college students, set in the beautiful back drop of an Upstate New York autumn, which see to span the entire two semesters of the story line. The problems occur when the establishment oriented Jerry Payne succombs to pier pressure over his love for the rather dowdy and kookie Pookie Adams, sadly breaking the fragile Pookie Adams' heart. Heart-wrenching, if not tearful, the simple, well-directed and equally well-acted film earned Liza Minelli her first academy award nomination. The hauntingly simple recurring music, written and performed by The Sandpipers fits beautifully with the autumn landscapes of Upstate New York, and the finely written script, and is Alan J. Paluka at his best. This film never reached cult status, except among a more intellectual and sentimental audience, but is definitely worth watching if for no other reason than to see a young (and almost anorexic) Liza Minelli and savor the beauty of an Upstate New York Autumn and the simplicity of the recurring theme, which sounds like a blend between Ravi Shankar and Plainsong Gregorian Chant. All of it fits well and there is not a flaw in this beautifully acted and directed film that can be compared to Quaker simplicity.

Review by Akiko Ashley (posted on 5-Feb-2008)

I loved Liza Minelli in this emotionally charge drama where she plays the awkward Pookie Adams, a young girl in her freshman year who meets Jerry. The two go to separate colleges in upstate New York. Jerry is a quiet studious type who falls for Pookie who is a bit nuts but endearingly so. I thought Alan Pakula the director did a wonderful job of capturing the tender and difficult moments between the two lovers. This film was very moving and anyone who remembers their early years of awkward love can appreciate this film. A beautiful film everyone young girl should have in her library.

Review by Tony Corman (posted on 21-Apr-2009)

I also think it's a magnificent movie, but perhaps darker than it appears at first blush. Yes, Pookie at her best is endearing - she's clearly bright, sexually alive, and dying to engage. But she's been damaged by her family, doesn't really know *how* to engage, and as a result has been rejected more often than not. She responds by rejecting everyone else: they're all creeps and weirdos. She's also become a bit predatory, and takes advantage of Jerry's decency to seduce him. She tries to isolate him and begins to fall apart when he will not yield. He comes to see that he cannot be with her and also engage in the wider world. The movie is bracketed by scenes of men packing Pookie off on a bus, which I imagine to presage the rest of her life: men remanding her to the care of someone else. There's no sense it will end well for her. All that said, it's a nuanced, poetic film, one in which we feel for both protagonists.

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