August 23, 2020
The Competition (1980)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Joel Oliansky
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Amy Irving, Lee Remick

What it's about. A prestigious classical piano competition has an age limit of 30 and draws the top young pianists in the nation. They include tightly strung Richard Dreyfuss, impossibly beautiful Amy Irving, gay black guy Ty Henderson, publicity seeking Italian stallion Joseph Cali, young Russian drama queen Vicki Kriegler, and humorless nerd Adam Stern.

Since Dreyfuss is turning 30, this is his last chance to take home the big prize. It is only the first year for Amy Irving. Because it is a movie, Dreyfuss and Irving begin a sexual relationship, even though Dreyfuss is a jerk prone to temper tantrums. Irving's piano teacher is lovely but jaded Lee Remick, who believes that Dreyfuss is manipulating Irving into tanking her performance so that Dreyfuss can win in his sunset year.

Sam Wanamaker has a supporting role as a flamboyant symphony conductor. Philip Sterling and Gloria Stroock play Drefuss' parents. The father pushes Dreyfuss to continue in his career, while the mother, while avoiding a confrontation with her husband, would like Dreyfuss to take a steady teaching job.

One of the actors playing the six finalists was actually a professional pianist (Adam Stern).

The Competition is the only theatrical film directed by Joel Oliansky, whose career as a writer and director was mostly in television.

How others will see it. The Competition was a box office disappointment. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing and Best Original Song. Lalo Schifrin's score was nominated for a Golden Globe. But the movie also received nominations it would have liked to avoid, from The Razzie Awards and The Stinkers, who dumped on 1970s film icon Richard Dreyfuss.

Today at, the movie has 1800 user ratings, a relatively low total for a movie starring two A-list actors. The user rating of 6.6 is modest, given the best intentions of the producers, and the film's aspirations of great classical music.

But the user reviews are predominantly positive. Fans appreciate the fact that the actors playing the six finalists were thoroughly trained as pianists, so that their hands could be shown accompanying the pre-recorded soundtrack. Lee Remick's scene-chewing performance is also praised.

How I felt about it. It seems that the first thing a director learns is that conflict makes a movie. Oliansky certainly knew this, since conflict is all over the place here. It puts Dreyfuss in his element, since he enjoys angst performances, but Irving is less comfortable with it. The need for conflict results in a silly scene where Dreyfuss takes over conducting Wanamaker's symphony and puts the arrogant conductor (whose character would have 20 times the income of Dreyfuss' character) in his place.

The real question is, what does Irving see in Dreyfuss? It is understandable that she would be in awe of his abilities on the piano, but that would pass quickly, since he's a prickly pear all too often. And who would believe that Amy Irving doesn't know how to drive a car. She was 27 when the film was released.

Their romance is the point of the movie, but it is rushed. They are up all night together when they should be separately preparing for the competition. They spend the evening in Dreyfuss' crummy hotel room when they could be enjoying Irving's luxury house. Dreyfuss turns down the offer of regular sex with Irving as her boy toy when the alternative is failure, unemployment, and loneliness.