Nominated for three Academy Awards in 1969, Faces examines the collapse of a 14 year marriage. When the relationship between Richard Forst (John Marley) and Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin) slowly becomes strained, Richard abruptly demands a divorce. As the couple have become disenchanted with what they expect from each other in the marriage, they both seek comfort in the arms of other people. Richard immediately goes to a high class prostitute, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), who is in love with him, and Maria, after a night out with a few other housewives, finds herself in the arms of an aging playboy, Chet (Seymour Cassel).
At first glance, Faces seems to be a film that is comprised of several really good scenes that are loosely tied together. Some scenes run on so long that the audience may forget moments that came before it. However, as the film progresses Cassavetes point becomes much clearer. He depicts a marriage where the participants have been unhappy for a while, but just did not know it. The revelation of the inherent sadness of their marriage is not only found in Richard and Maria’s union, but also in the other housewives that Maria associates with.
The way Cassavetes portrays the sexes in the film is what really makes Faces compelling. Cassavetes essentially shows that often men are nothing more than little children who never really grow up. Each male character in the film wants to be viewed as a king of sorts. They expect every woman they are with to worship them, yet their childish insecurities often seep through. It is the women in the film who really demand the viewer’s attention. The women in Faces are tired of constantly begin neglected by their men, and only receiving affection when it is on the man’s terms. There is a hopelessness to the women as they seem to keep repeating the cycle. This is especially evident in the characters of Jeanine and Maria.
While both Rowlands and Carlin give great performances, it is Carlin who really steals the film. The second half of Faces primarily focuses on the relationship between Maria and Chet and is easily the highlight of the film. Carlin masterfully conveys both the desire for freedom and the guilt of not being able to cope with her situation. There have been many films that observe marriages falling apart, yet there is something about Faces that makes it stand apart from others in this genre. Whether it is the way Cassavetes lets a scene linger or the performances from his cast, Faces turned out to be a pleasant surprise despite its depressing subject matter.