The Best of Everything (A Film Study of Codependence, Abandonment, Denial, and Differentiation)
By: Karen
February 2, 2014

The Best of Everything is a movie made in 1959, complete with title song performed by Johnny Mathis. New York Times film critic, Howard Thompson, referred to it as a “handsome but curiously unstimulating drama.” On a superficial level, this is true. It is a predictable story of four ambitious women employed at a publishing house.  April Morrison, played by Diane Baker, is a secretary with the singular goal of finding a husband.  Barbara Lamont, played by Mary Hyer, is biding her time at the publishing house until she is discovered as an actress. Joan Crawford portrays Amanda Farrow, the brutal editor-in-chief who is single, independent, and needs no one. Finally, Hope Lange is Caroline Bender, a newly hired assistant who is intent on becoming an editor. Going deeper, this movie is a brilliant study of codependence; abandonment; denial; and finally, healthy differentiation.

April Morrison exists in a state of codependence. She has a needy little girl inside who can only experience self as a reflection of others. Her value is reliant on the roles she plays in their lives. Her need for belonging blinds her to the reality of her relationships. She enters quickly into a romance with a playboy, choosing not to recognize the lies he tells while seducing her. She becomes pregnant and is surprised to find out that their drive to a justice of the peace is really to a doctor for an abortion. She is devastated, ends up in the hospital and immediately enters into a relationship with the doctor treating her. While the movie does not follow this relationship to conclusion, ‘happily ever after’ is clearly insinuated. In real life it would most likely not end well. April needs to spend time understanding and nurturing her inner child, the needy little girl searching for affirmation and belonging. It is through this work she will achieve the peace of interdependent relationships.

Barbara Lamont is desperate in her abandonment, which we see triggered over and over. She becomes romantically involved with stage director David Savage. He eventually tells her she will not be cast in his play as he walks away. She begs him not to leave her and cries that she will do anything, even work as an understudy. He returns and her desperation grows as the relationship pathetically limps  along. David comes into his bedroom to find Barbara looking through his dresser for evidence of his unfaithfulness. When he kicks her out, she begs again to no avail. Her roommates are not home when she returns to her apartment. She searches frantically from one room to another, collapsing to the floor realizing she is alone. In her next scene, she is on the fire escape outside David’s apartment window, listening to his encounter with another woman. Upon being discovered, she trips and falls to her death while running down the fire escape.  I was fascinated by this character, wondering what experiences had created her monster within. I would so love to work with Barbara to determine the source of her abandonment, learn to identify the triggers, and understand that they will never go away but can be managed.

Amanda Farrow gives the appearance of having achieved her dreams by becoming the editor-in-chief during a time when that role would usually be reserved for a man. Her denial manifests itself in her treatment of the other women. She is demanding, manipulative, and critical. We are given a moment of insight as we witness a telephone conversation which is presumably with a lover who is breaking yet another date due to an occurrence of his wife’s chronic illness. She is briefly reactive, but quickly returns to denial, refusing to see herself as a relational being….pouring a cocktail.  In a surprising twist Amanda leaves her job to marry a childhood friend in her small home town. She is going to become a “woman, after all”.  Predictably, she soon returns, claiming that it was too late for her.  It was not too late; she simply was not equipped to acknowledge and claim her need for relationship. Amanda needed help identifying the reason for her denial and working through it to arrive at a place where she could allow herself the healthy luxury of vulnerability.

Finally, we take a look at Caroline Bender. Unofficially engaged to Eddie, a soldier stationed overseas, she is clear on her goal to become an editor. When Eddie telephones, she is thrilled until told he has married a wealthy heiress. In her grief she goes to a bar with an attractive male coworker. Under the influence, she asks him to take her home and make love to her. Caroline soon realizes she is reacting to her ‘heartbreak’ and leaves with her sadness and sense of self intact. Subsequently, she accepts the chief editor position when Amanda resigns, still able to enjoy the realization of this part of her dream. Eddie returns to claim he has never stopped loving her. She falls easily into his arms believing all her dreams have come true. As his intent to have an affair and visit her periodically becomes clear, she stands firm and confident. She is saddened but leaves, again honoring her strong sense of self.  Her final show of strength is the gracious return to her position as assistant when Amanda returns. Caroline is well differentiated with a strong sense of self and an ability to make healthy choices, operating from a position of interdependence in relationships. This is a beautiful thing and her therapist has surely enjoyed traveling this journey with her.

Most of us will be able to see parts of ourselves in each of these characters, especially if we have already begun our journey to recovery. It is important and wonderful (yes, full of wonder) to realize how healthy we can become if we are willing to do the work. We can learn the art of interdependence, manage our abandonment, move from denial to vulnerability, and enjoy the inner harmony brought by differentiation.