When a Man Loves a Woman (film)

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When a Man Loves a Woman
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLuis Mandoki
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyLajos Koltai
Music byZbigniew Preisner
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • April 29, 1994 (1994-04-29)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$119 million[1]

When a Man Loves a Woman is a 1994 American romantic drama film directed by Luis Mandoki and written by Al Franken and Ronald Bass. The film stars Andy García, Meg Ryan, Tina Majorino, Mae Whitman, Ellen Burstyn, Lauren Tom, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

When a Man Loves a Woman was released in the United States on April 29, 1994. For her performance as an alcoholic mother, Ryan was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role. The film's title is taken from the song of the same name by Percy Sledge.


Alice Green is a school counselor who has a serious drinking problem and is married to Michael, an airline pilot. Though she is lighthearted and loving, Alice is often reckless and, when drunk, even neglects her children: nine-year-old Jess from a previous marriage, and four-year-old Casey, whose father is Michael.

One afternoon, Alice enters their home in a drunken incoherent state. She dismisses the reluctant babysitter Amy, who leaves her alone with her children. Still drinking, Alice is confronted by Jess, who is concerned for her welfare. In return, she slaps Jess, who runs to her room in tears. While in the shower, Alice retches, calls for Jess, and is unable to control her balance, which causes her to fall through the shower door onto the bathroom floor and lose consciousness. Fearing Alice has died, Jess contacts Michael who immediately flies home to be by Alice's side.

In the hospital, Michael and Alice confront the truth about Alice's drinking. They both decide that she must seek professional help for her alcoholism. Upon release from the hospital, a timid Alice enters a rehabilitation clinic.

Michael finds himself now the main caregiver of their home and children, a role he struggles to maintain along with his career as an airline pilot, as well as fighting with Amy and driving her out of the house. Meanwhile, at the clinic, Alice is flourishing; her recovery is painful, but stabilizing, and she is well-liked and respected by both staff and fellow clinic tenants alike. During a family visit day at the clinic, Alice immediately begins to rebuild her shattered bond with the children, leaving Michael alone to wander the grounds uncomfortable and out of place in Alice's new lifestyle.

Alice returns home sober yet guarded – she is vocal, strong, and changed. Michael is having trouble adjusting to Alice's post-treatment aloofness, distant and cold behavior towards him. He has become used to being the stable and responsible one in their relationship and appropriately feels neglected by Alice's newly established and highly prioritized outside friendships. She resents the fact that Michael seems to be out of touch with her ability to cope at home, yet whenever he expresses his love and concern, she shuts him out. Coming to terms with their estrangement, a reluctant Michael agrees to Alice's suggestion that the two see a marriage counselor, who considers Michael's behavior as "codependent."

During an argument, Alice confesses that Michael's clearly genuine desire to be a supportive husband "makes her skin crawl." Michael moves out, and Alice stays in their home with the children. Michael is unable to process the change his relationship has undergone and seeks out a support group for spouses of alcoholics. Initially shy, Michael becomes a more vocal member of the group and shares his sorrow over his lack of understanding for the gravity his wife's sobriety would have on him, his children, and his marriage.

Alice and Michael singularly return to the hospital to celebrate the birth of Amy's baby. They spend time together and as they depart, Alice asks Michael if he would attend her 180-day sober speech where she will acknowledge her failings and accomplishments. She also tells him that she has been thinking about asking him to come home with her. Michael tells Alice he has been offered a job in Denver. For the first time since they both agreed Alice should enter rehab, they both agree Michael should take the position.

Alice later stands on a stage and tells her sobriety story; the toll it took on her, her children, and her marriage. Her audience is moved to tears. Her speech ends and she is surrounded by well-wishers. Out of the crowd appears Michael. At ease with himself and Alice, he explains what he missed along the way..."to listen, to really listen." They share an intense, longing, passionate kiss.



Tom Hanks was considered for Garcia's role and Michelle Pfeiffer and Debra Winger were considered for Ryan's role.[2]


Critical response[edit]

The film holds a 69% approval rating among critics at Rotten Tomatoes based on 96 reviews. The site's consensus states: "When a Man Loves a Woman delves into the complex dynamics of a marriage shadowed by addiction, aided by strong performances from Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan."[3]

Roger Ebert, himself a recovering alcoholic,[4] gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "Here is a wise and ambitious film about the way alcoholism affects the fabric of a marriage. So many movies about the disease simplify it into a three-step process: Gradual onset, spectacular bottom, eventual recovery. It isn't that simple; most alcoholics never even give themselves a chance to recover. And recovery is a beginning, not an end."[5] He praised the acting of Meg Ryan, Andy Garcia, and Lauren Tom, and said one of the film's strengths is "it isn't just about Alice's recovery. It's about Michael's recovery from Alice's recovery."[5]

James Berardinelli said that the "ending is too facile", and that its "occasional didactic tendencies are its weakness", but concluded "the script does a good enough job establishing the dynamics of the Green family that we never doubt that the story deserves to be told. The film's poignancy is its strength...In balance, the former by far outweighs the latter, making this a worthwhile picture."[6] Berardinelli also gave praise to the performances of Tina Majorino and Mae Whitman, and argued that seeing the characters of Alice and Michael through the children's eyes helps elevate the story.[6]

David Denby of New York Magazine called the film an "earnest and highly prolonged counseling disappointment" and a "pushy therapeutic exercise" which, although intelligent, features "endless talk, a stunted mise en scène, and a moral atmosphere of dogged and literal-minded persistence" which "overvalues its own sobriety".[7]

In a 2012 review for Bitch magazine, Christen McCurdy wrote, "It’s a rare film that begins its story in the middle of a relationship, and whose happy ending does not depend on one character’s white-hot epiphany and subsequent breathless confession (though we get something like that in the final scene). Instead, both characters’ roles in the relationship have to evolve."[8]

Box office[edit]

The film debuted at number two at the US box office behind The Crow.[9] It grossed $50 million in the United States and Canada[10] and $119 million worldwide.[1]

Year-end lists[edit]


A soundtrack featuring the musical score by Zbigniew Preisner was released.[14] The track list is as follows:

  1. When a Man Loves a Woman (feat. Percy Sledge)
  2. "Crazy Love" by Van Morrison
  3. El Gusto
  4. Main Title
  5. Garbage Compulsion
  6. Homecoming
  7. I Hit Her Hard
  8. Dressing Casey
  9. Gary
  10. Michael Decides
  11. Alice & Michael

Not included on the soundtrack but featured in the film are the tracks "Running From Mercy" and "Stewart's Coat" by Rickie Lee Jones, "I'm a Good Man" by Robert Cray, and "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Planet Hollywood". Screen International. August 30, 1996. pp. 14–15.
  2. ^ Mell, Eila (2013). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 9781476609768.page 254
  3. ^ "When a Man Loves a Woman". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 1, 2023.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 25, 2009). "My Name is Roger, and I'm an alcoholic". rogerebert.com. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (May 6, 1994). "When a Man Loves a Woman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 4, 2015 – via RogerEbert.com.
  6. ^ a b Berardinelli, James (January 1, 2005). Reel Views 2: The Ultimate Guide to the Best 1,000 Modern Movies on DVD and Video. Justin, Charles & Co. p. 383. ISBN 978-1-932112-40-5.
  7. ^ Denby, David (May 9, 1994). "A vodka tonic". New York. New York Media, LLC: 66. ISSN 0028-7369.
  8. ^ McCurdy, Christen (November 13, 2012). "Lady Liquor: Gendering Codependency in When a Man Loves a Woman". Bitch Media. Archived from the original on June 4, 2021. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  9. ^ Fox, David J. (May 16, 1994). "The Crow' Takes Off at Box Office Movies: The opening is the biggest ever for Miramax. In second place is 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' with 'Crooklyn' third". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
  10. ^ When a Man Loves a Woman at Box Office Mojo
  11. ^ P. Means, Sean (January 1, 1995). "'Pulp and Circumstance' After the Rise of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood Would Never Be the Same". The Salt Lake Tribune (Final ed.). p. E1.
  12. ^ Dudek, Duane (December 30, 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
  13. ^ Arnold, William (December 30, 1994). "'94 Movies: Best and Worst". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Final ed.). p. 20.
  14. ^ "When a Man Loves a Woman [Original Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  15. ^ "SoundtrackINFO: When a Man Loves a Woman Soundtrack". www.soundtrackinfo.com. Retrieved July 28, 2022.

External links[edit]