Christine (Joan Hackett) is a young single mother and widow who lives in New York City. She has a son, Jamie (Scott Colomby, playing a ten year-old even though he’s obviously a teenager). Jamie is an aspiring director who make a film of his classmates running around the playground while wearing Richard Nixon masks. Jamie, who is described as having a genius IQ, is also unhealthily obsessed with his mother, which the film, via flashback, links to her taking a shower in front of him while he was still potty training.
Jamie is not happy when Christine meets Peter (Robert Klein), a loudmouth who gives tours of the city to New York residents only. If you’re from out-of-town, don’t even try to get in Peter’s microbus. Peter and Christine start to date and then, eventually, they get married. Despite the fact that his older babysitter wants to have an affair with him, Jamie remains obsessed with his mother and refuses to accept Peter as his stepfather. Peter knows that Jamie doesn’t like him and eventually gives up on trying to win him over. What Peter doesn’t know is that Jamie has come up with an elaborate scheme to murder him.
Rivals is the type of strange and messy film that could only have been made in 1972. I guess it would be considered to be a mix of a horror movie and a psychological thriller but the tone of Rivals is all over the place so it’s hard to know what the film is trying to say about Jamie or his mother. Throughout the film, there are sudden montages that seem to have little to do with the plot. For instance, the film comes to a halt so we can spend several minutes watching as Peter attempts to harangue people into getting in his bus. Peter is supposed to be likable but he comes across as being so obnoxious that it is easy to see why Jamie would not want him for a stepfather. As for Jamie, he’s supposed to be ten but looks like he should be starting middle school so his obsession with sex is never as shocking as it should be. The ludicrous subplot about his babysitter goes nowhere and just seems to disappear. The one bright spot in the film is Joan Hackett as Christine. Hackett does the best she can with her inconsistent role and she’s the one person in Rivals who you will actually care about.
Rivals is a mess, perhaps worth seeing only for the location footage of New York in the early 70s. Otherwise, this is a forgotten film that does not need to be remembered.