Puffball is adapted from a 1980 novel by British writer Fay Weldon. Weldon gained a name during the 1980s with the hit tv mini-series The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1986) based on her 1983 novel about a homely woman who takes an elaborate revenge on her husband after she is abandoned. This was later poorly remade as the US film She-Devil (1989) starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr. Weldon had worked as a tv scriptwriter for British tv since the 1960s. Following The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, her body of novels gained a prominence and there were adaptations of various of her other works, including the genre likes of the tv mini-series Growing Rich (1992) about three women who make pacts with a mysterious Devil figure and The Cloning of Joanna May (1992) about a woman who discovers her ex-husband has cloned her three times over. Puffball was produced and the script written by Weldons son Dan.
I had only heard disappointing things about Puffball before watching it. I reasoned that at least it was from Nicolas Roeg and that alone should guarantee an interesting and offbeat film. Roeg certainly does a good deal in establishing a convincing and down-to-earth portrait of rural Ireland. There are worthwhile performances from all the principals. The film starts slowly and takes a long time to let us know where it is going, with Roeg merely hinting at things in cryptic conversations and elusively littered clues. One should also note that Nicolas Roegs typical stylistic trademarks wild visuals, random and atemporal editing schemes, sexual obsessiveness have been toned way down and Puffball could otherwise have been handled by a more mainstream, more routine director.
Fay Weldons plot does eventually kick in with the bizarrely black twists and contorted sexual politics that we expect of her with Kelly Reilly getting pregnant; Miranda Richardson believing the child that is rightfully hers has been stolen and sending husband William Houston to seduce Kelly under the influence of a magic spell and steal her baby away on the tip of his penis to return and impregnate her; Kelly Reilly miscarrying then finding out she is still pregnant but realising it might be with Houstons baby; and the contorted jealousies that ensue. There are times this does verge on horror territory but the film takes a long and meandering trip getting there. Certainly all of this pagan fertility rites, magic seduction spells, an enchanted husband sent to steal another womans baby by seducing her and bringing it back to impregnate Miranda Richardson sounds like a far wilder film is on offer than is actually the case. In fact, Nicolas Roegs treatment of all of this is surprisingly dull and mundane. A work that leapt into horror territory or came out maybe somewhere around where The Witches of Eastwick (1987) existed could have held an enormous degree of potential. Ultimately though, it is only the performances that lift Puffball and the hoping that the film will turn into something more interesting than it is. Unfortunately, it never does.
Nicolas Roegs other genre films are:- Dont Look Now (1973), a film about precognition; The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) about an alien visitor; the surrealist Dennis Potter collaboration Track 29 (1988); the Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches (1990); and the supernatural thriller Cold Heaven (1991).