The "fickle-finger fate," where things happen to her without her consent or even awareness ("I guess you're supposed to know") is exceptionally impactful in this milieu because the energy around MacLaine doesn't match the content. She can't even sustain attention during the numbers (i.e. the nightclub moment where everyone notices her, before all eyes deviate onto the dancers for an extended period of time - so long in fact that we forget about MacLaine entirely!) and in the bulk of the numbers where she is featured, almost all of them end in the most jarringly abrupt transitions possible, revealing their impermanence and pitiful dream logic. Plans made with friends are immediately dropped with a cold snub, a potential tryst is interrupted by another woman- leading to a shameful retreat into the closet, and of course the opening push into the water is such a sharp cut, it's sobering in a way Fellini's film can't be within its comfortably consistent tempo. Embodying a tone of pure drama allows for little surprise, but Fosse's film takes us on the rollercoaster ride of hope in musical joy and then drops us against expectations, time and time again, so we can feel MacLaine's destabilizing experience as she too fails to see what comes to her.
Some of these embarrassments are played off with humor in the moment, but there's a lurking hopelessness from patriarchal trappings that feels like a page out of Quine's world in My Sister Eileen. A really nice touch is the introduction of Oscar, as simply a man stuck in the elevator freaking out, while MacLaine is apathetic to the experience: this is an allegory for her life, as a woman; yet her skills at resilience cynically don't matter much when the elevator gets fixed. The man's reaction is hilarious, but the unsettling implications of the lows on either side of this high are soul-destroying in their pronounced divergences. I'm making this out to be an upsetting film, but the treat is that it's anything but, just as Quine's film is an absolute joy. There's a subtext begging to be acknowledged, but also so much intentional phantasmagoria that Fosse and Simon are inviting you into a fugue state of ignorance at the same time. I believe this is a film designed to be digested with enjoyment on every possible level the medium can offer- through surface-level extravagant pleasures, narrative emotional payoff, and validation of deep-rooted sociological truths.
I haven't had this much fun thinking, feeling, and passively smiling from sublime cinematic inebriation in a long time, and this is a film that thankfully doesn't force us to experience all of these at once, but one at a time, and at our convenience. There isn't overwhelming pressure to conform to any one mood; all are paths welcome. The 'tire' scene is a perfect example of this genius emotional choose-your-own adventure, because the revelatory beginning of drama actuated by Maclaine is -in opposition to the numbers->reality 'sinking feelings'- shockingly interrupted by the context of the situational gag and then the absurd state of the man verbally cutting-off MacLaine to jump for joy about overcoming one of his fears (others of which misogynistically assign her fatalism in the end in double standards, based on irreversible history). The tire-emergence ensuing insanity is so funny and delightful that we can forget the implications here, or what important information she needed to get off her chest before we re-entered fantasyland, or we can hone in on that a little earlier. I mean, the artificiality of Fosse literally freezing the wedding celebrations to pause self-reflexively and give us a chance to remember not only what this is but what's coming, sells it all with playful permission. Eh, what's the point in writing on and on about layered artistic intelligence that needs to be seen and heard to be felt and appreciated.