Woody Allen's first dramatic film is a fascinating if flawed work, admirable in many ways but frustrating in others, especially in his self-conscious stylistic aping of Ingmar Bergman after the delightfully original and fresh ANNIE HALL. There is much potential in the script to explore the dynamics between the family, greatly enhanced by the fine performances of the entire cast, but too often it is unwilling to explore the characters and situations fully, instead becoming devoid of serious insight, and falling back on stilted and cliched dialogue that comes dangerously close to being an unintentional parody of the brooding, moody Scandinavian art films that provide the model here.
The problem is that Allen, in his first dramatic effort, seems to equate seriousness with unrelenting pessimism and bleakness. The characters could be more human if he'd permitted them moments of happiness or humor. It is telling that perhaps the most sympathetic character, played by Maureen Stapleton, is the only one who exhibits any sense of humor, and is looked upon with disdain by the other characters for her cheerful vulgarity.
Still, there are some moments of real beauty, particularly in Gordon Willis' photography of the Southampton beachfront house. It remains one of Allen's most interesting films purely in terms of his use of the physical screen space, providing a palpable sense of depth and space in the film's indoor locations.