Thursday, June 16, 2022

More Important Than Power

Films of the ‘70s are often filled with so much darkness and cynicism that it can be almost impossible not to romanticize them out of proportion. Sometimes that’s just the sort of thing I need to watch late at night, maybe now more than ever. In that scrappy, old-school, shot-on-celluloid way those films put us right in there in the middle of what the mood was and the best of them can reflect those times in a way that feels like it would be impossible to do now. Even genre films of that time manage to face the uncertainty in the air head on and that’s why they remain potent today, whether classics like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, or less reputable titles along the lines of DEATH WISH as well as some that have achieved latter day appreciation such as the great NIGHT MOVES or THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, but there are others that have continued to slip through the cracks. Maybe that’s also part of what I’m looking for late at night when I put these things on. Even the ones that have happy endings, and there aren’t many of them, can be upsetting. In a strange way that uncertainty helps get me to sleep, as a reminder that things haven’t changed very much.
There’s also something about films released around 1974-75 that can feel like they reflect a society nearing the breaking point during the time of Watergate as if to see how far they could go in reflecting that cynicism in the air. Even JAWS, which turned up in the summer of ’75 and famously changed everything, offers the aura of conspiracy and cover-up to balance out the brilliance of its popcorn thrills. Released earlier that year, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER is all about conspiracy and cover-up leading to the individual damage that irrevocably causes, and even if it doesn’t live up to the best cop films of the era still has moments that contain a punch in its look at the intensity of city life in the mid ‘70s. This isn’t a very well-known film now and the file folder nature of the title could be the reason or maybe it didn’t make enough of an impression when it was new but maybe it’s also missing something that makes it stand out from the crowd, the way even something like the strictly so-so THE SEVEN-UPS still contains one of the best car chases ever smack in the middle. In fairness, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER has a few particularly memorable sequences but maybe the most interesting aspects are found after digging a little further into it, some of them documentary in nature even when the action kicks into gear along with some sharp character work throughout. Plus the film definitely offers the feel of what it was really like to stand on a Manhattan street corner back in the ‘70s, a reminder of how messed up things were in those days and maybe how messed up they are now too, more than I want to think about sometimes. It’s also interesting because of what it focuses on and what it doesn’t. The right decisions don’t always get made, after all. That’s the way it was then, that’s the way it is now.
The shooting death of a female NYPD undercover officer has the commissioner insist on an official investigation with a full report to be delivered to him without any cover-up. The case focuses on Detective Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty) who as seen in flashbacks has recently begun his job at the NYPD as an undercover detective. The son of a former detective, it immediately becomes clear how wrong he is for the job while he is shown around the Times Square area by his partner, the much more seasoned Richard ‘Crunch’ Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto). What Lockley doesn’t know is that one of the young girls he spots out on the street is ambitious undercover cop Patty Butler (Susan Blakely) going by the name Chicklet out on the street, with a particular interest in a heroin dealer named Stick (Tony King) and looking to move in with him to get closer to his operation. But when the department has Bo look for Chicklet as a missing person to keep her cover going without being told who she really is, the two worlds collide, leading to the disaster we know is coming.
The flashback structure of REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER that largely makes up the first half lends a complexity to the storytelling but even when things feel unclear or a little too familiar after so many other ‘70s cop movies there is often an energy and sense of seriousness to the approach. The film was directed by Milton Katselas whose other films include 1972’s BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE but he also worked on the stage, with credits that include the original off-Broadway production of Edward Albee’s THE ZOO STORY and later was a somewhat renowned acting teacher who founded the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Maybe appropriate for a theater director, here he often seems largely interested in both behavior and the physical presence of people in relation to each other, along with at times making a close study of people’s faces as they absorb information the very point of certain scenes. BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE was an adaptation of a Broadway play he also directed, largely set in a single apartment, and there’s a similarity felt to the blocking here during certain interiors like in crowded squad rooms that feels covered in a standard, if not restrictive, way as if some of these scenes would be played exactly the same on the stage but at times feels too constricted within the frame.
In comparison, some of the location shooting in the heart of Times Square features handheld camerawork that is downright aggressive at times (cinematography by Mario Tosi who also shot CARRIE and THE STUNT MAN, as well as the KOJAK pilot THE MARCUS-NELSON MURDERS), as if parts were ghost-directed on the run by Larry Cohen or somebody else who knew how to shoot in the middle of crowds and traffic without anyone realizing. Other scenes, particularly one foot chase that moves from the roof of the Winter Garden Theatre down into Broadway traffic, feature crowds of people in full view on both sides of the street presumably watching the filming since they couldn’t close off the street entirely, but it still helps add to the immediacy and verisimilitude of shots, giving the impression of a city so crowded that it’s practically about to burst. It may not be the point but the visual is so intense that it’s not even a bad thing. This comes a year before TAXI DRIVER which shot in some of the same locations but unlike that film which through its brilliance shows us all the depravity through Travis Bickle’s eyes this one puts us right down there in the middle of the sidewalk, not quite documentary style but still very intense in its more straightforward way, with handheld camerawork that gives it a much more frenetic feel as if someone might knock us over and take our wallet at any moment. It’s a look at a New York that appears to always be on the brink with enough great footage of Times Square that makes me dream of hanging out at the Howard Johnson’s for a while but there’s also glimpses at some of the movies that were playing—CLAUDINE and BLAZING SADDLES are prominently spotted on marquees in a number of shots along with THE GREAT GATSBY which also has two separate giant ads overhead; looking up release dates I’m guessing the location filming happened around April-May 1974. All of this is completely incidental to the actual film, of course, but it’s a good indication of how naturalistic parts of this film are yet still totally alien to what we think of as New York these days. It would be too dismissive to say that one of the most appealing things about this film is the look at the way Times Square was but it’s hard not to dwell on it a little.
With a screenplay by Abby Mann and Ernest Tidyman based on the novel by James Mills, the fairly complex flashback structure of the first half makes it a little difficult to keep track of things but maybe it’s the sense of familiarity how some of this feels like ‘just another cop movie’ that’s the bigger issue. The focus is more or less on Michael Moriarty’s new undercover detective Bo Lockley who enters the movie frazzled and never entirely settles down making it hard not to imagine the part played in more of a low-key Pacino mode. It’s tough to take at times but to his credit the actor never makes it about vanity or turning this into a star role, as if the body language coming from the performance is saying that even he’s not quite sure what he’s doing in this movie. His backstory comes with guilt over a brother who died in Vietnam and a father, never seen, who was once on the force but it never quite registers as much as it should and neither does talk of how he’s meant to be a modern cop placed out there on the streets by the department, contrasted with his older, wiser partner played by Yaphet Kotto who has no compunctions of smacking down a pimp right out there on the street. There’s just enough of the pairing to make me wish there was more, each talking around the other and not hearing what they’re saying but some sort of mutual admiration thing happening between the two regardless. In a way Moriarty’s performance comes off as so unhinged and out of place that it becomes the very point so Kotto looking at him in disbelief that response makes perfect sense.
All of this is well-played by the actors but just a little too familiar at times which means when the narrative moves over to the undercover cop Chicklet played by Susan Blakely, the switch hits the film like a shot of adrenaline. Right away there’s an additional energy and she’s a stronger, more compelling character. Blakely isn’t the lead of the film and the way the story plays out unfortunately she can’t be but it’s hard not to wish there could be more of her. She knows what she’s doing and why, a woman with clear-cut motivation as well as a cop who just wants to do her job and under the most dangerous circumstances imaginable if necessary. Maybe there isn’t much more to it beyond a sense of pure and total ambition but she has agency and is one of the few characters in the film who never seems conflicted. She wants to do the job no one else wants to do and she wants to do it better than anyone which means the men around her are all completely baffled by this independent woman. Even after everything has gone wrong though no fault of her own they still can’t think of portraying Butler as anything more than a girl who might have been caught between two guys, using her to cover their own ass. It’s a drawback of the film that in the end she feels more like a plot device than a character but Blakely brings enough to the performance to help overcome this, revealing multiple layers particularly in those moments when she’s suddenly forced to drop the act so we know she’s not kidding around. Even the way she’s framed at times with the color red lighting her face that signifies the danger she’s seeking out becomes one of the films most striking visual flourishes, setting her apart from all the other cops who are unwilling to take this sort of chance. It’s a character at once unknowable and more than anyone else in the film a figure of strength even if she has her own seemingly unfathomable reasons.
The skeezy, dirty vibe feels grounded in a way that sets it apart from the delirium of TAXI DRIVER and the the investigation plotline of the middle section offers tangents that pop up frequently including a sequence with Richard Gere, in what appears to be his first film role, playing a confident pimp that gets in Lockley’s way as well as a completely unrecognizable appearance by the great Bob (credited as “Robert”) Balaban as a homeless double amputee who wheels himself around, leading to an extended scene where he wheels himself out into traffic tailing someone in a cab that looks genuinely dangerous in a few shots; this is one of those places where the plot beats don’t quite add up but it’s still fascinating to watch. The nightclub scene where Lockley tracks down Chicklet also has a propulsive nature with the Vernon Birch’s “Changes (Messin’ with My Mind)” on the soundtrack that gives an ominous feel. It’s in some of these moments that helps REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER stand out with a unique approach that always adds to the seriousness.
That feeling largely holds throughout but the film possibly needs more juice when the points are being made and some of the energy coming from that camerawork out on the streets could maybe have been applied to the interiors as well. At least some of this is grounded by the strength of Yaphet Kotto’s presence and though the script’s reason for why Crunch is so fond and protective of Lockley never feels fully developed beyond once knowing his father the actor sells it even if he disappears a little too long from the middle section. Between the close quarters interrogations probing the coverup plotline and all the Times Square footage it feels like the directorial approach wants to be the illegitimate child of a Lumet procedural (SERPICO is spotted on another marquee in Times Square) and Friedkin intensity but can’t find the middle ground so there’s a level of energy missing that doesn’t quite connect the two tones. The big foot chase through the streets with Moriarty pursuing Tony King clad in nothing but his underwear which finally ends in a Saks Fifth Avenue elevator is exciting, faulty geography aside, and, once again all the signs of New York life around them is definitely part of that. But the blaxploitation-type funk riffs in the Elmer Bernstein score feel like they’re in the wrong movie, ignoring the weight of the moment and another sign that the film is not quite hitting what the grounded mood should be.
Much of the final third is made up of the standoff between cop and drug dealer, trapped together in a Saks elevator which is effectively filmed to emphasize the close quarters aspect. The suspense is presented as soberly as possible with no TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE wisecracks to be found, instead focusing on the big speech by Tony King as Stick which lays it all out. “It’s them and us,” is the big statement he makes, that the two of them trapped there together places them against all the cops on “their own side” who are really in charge. This is pretty much the only part of the film where this character so many people have been talking about gets any substantial dialogue and he’s given more strength to his actions than the nominal lead gets here, another reminder that this is a film without a typical hero which is both admirable and yet keeps the audience at a certain distance; to use our modern-day parlance it’s not really a movie with an identifiable lead for us to latch onto. Moriarty’s character is too unstable, Kotto is too cynical, Blakely too out on a limb for the men in charge to know what to do with. In the middle of all this it’s the drug dealer (along with indications that he’s some sort of black militant gun runner which are never made clear), who in other films would be portrayed as more of an outright bad guy, is the one who seems the most level-headed of anyone one of the most daring ideas in the entire film. Naturally, there’s only one thing the cops in charge know to do with someone like that.
The plot feels overly dense and a little undernourished all at once but still runs on too long in the second half with the department store standoff’s tension diffusing past a certain point. The flashback structure (presumably taken after the book which I haven’t read but apparently told its fictional story in the form of police reports and interview transcripts detailing the case) feels necessary in order to lay things out in a clear and concise fashion but it also causes what is likely the most dramatic event of the film to be brushed over quick so the tragedy is barely registered in the moment it occurs. All the men around Blakely’s Pat Butler seem to be intimidated by this woman, her commander talking more about her good looks than anything else, and even Lockley can’t quite explain why he was so determined to rescue her. But the film seems more intent on the overall nature of the Watergate-era cover-up which is at the heart of it, the cops in charge willing to give Bo up as a sacrificial lamb, even when he still has no idea what really happened, and when the right decision does get made near the end it’s too late. The way the plot is laid out forces the aftermath to wind down rather than build to a real dramatic conclusion so the last few scenes sputter out as the investigation fizzles. In a nutshell, stuff gets fucked up thanks to people who are trying to cover their own asses and there’s nothing anybody can do. There’s been no real point to any of it and nothing can even really come up the titular report since it would cause too much of a stir. When the end finally comes, the shock doesn’t register as much as it should and it feels like all we can do is shrug. It feels like the movie does too. That’s how defeated the final moment is. There aren’t any answers left for it to offer so maybe the somewhat sensationalistic credit in the end crawl (which seems to use the GODFATHER font, oddly enough) acknowledging “all the men and women of the New York City Police Department whose names cannot be revealed” says all that it needs to.
But through all that messaging are standout moments that stick in the brain afterwards. There’s a skill to the direction that lets the tension build in individual moments like Susan Blakely facing the camera/interviewer so sure in what she’s doing, Michael Moriarty tapping on the glass of the phone booth as she makes a call, Bob Balaban desperately holding onto the back of the taxicab, the close quarters feel of that elevator. These are the moments that tell the story in a way that hold the suspense together even if the larger details get somewhat lost in the moment. REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER frustrates but it’s still fascinating in what it presents whether the character detail or the look at the city at that point in time and it has moments that are even better than that, a well-made film that has the courage of its convictions even when things get somewhat muddled. Frankly, anyone who is always looking for that other ‘70s movie would want to see this for the genre for the tone, for its look at dirty old fun city New York. It’s a cynical worldview that has aged in a way that makes sense. Those in power can do whatever they want which we knew all along. In the end, it’s not about making a difference or even being the one in charge. It’s just about filing the paperwork to move onto the next thing.
At times Michael Moriarty (do not, under any circumstances, take a drink every time he says “Chicklet”) seems genuinely unhinged and the very idea of underplaying a moment has never occurred to him but his strongest work comes near the end when his confusion becomes palpable during official questioning and he realizes that no one is going to help him, as if the actor has been in his own world the whole time and is just now realizing what movie he’s in with that jittery method thing feeling more like the actor responding to the more confident stylings of all the other actors he’s playing scenes with. This includes Yaphet Kotto who plays each moment totally confident with his body language which doesn’t ignore the cruelty he’s capable of but just the way he walks brings a lived-in feel to his every movement. Susan Blakely is particularly effective as the undercover cop so much of the plot swirls around, showing several sides of her character at once. Her performance is as fearless as her character, making me wish the plot could somehow revolve around her more, or at the least getting me to imagine the nonexistent movie where she gets to be the lead.
Playing The Stick, Tony King doesn’t have a long list of credits (formerly of the Buffalo Bills but also in films like SHAFT and SHARKY’S MACHINE; later he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Malik Farrakhan) but he’s imposing in just the right ways particularly during his scenes with Moriarty. He is the one who gets the film's big speech, after all, and for these few minutes it all just about comes together. It’s particularly amazing to watch Bob Balaban as the legless Joey Egan, not just because he’s totally unlike any other performance by him but he seems downright possessed at times, a madness present in his eyes that for whatever reason makes helping Lockley the most important thing in the world when he’s asked. Richard Gere offers some nasty cockiness as the pimp who gets on Lockley’s bad side while even the middle management cops played by the likes of Hector Elizondo and Michael McGuire (lots of credits but maybe most recognizable as Sumner Sloan, the professor who abandons Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers in the pilot of CHEERS) are well drawn in their own levels of pettiness. The likes of William Devane (just like in McCABE & MRS. MILLER, he’s a lawyer who turns up for one scene during the last half hour), Stephen Elliott as the titular commissioner (he was later the police chief in BEVERLY HILLS COP but also played the commissioner in the previous year’s DEATH WISH) and Vic Tayback are in there as well. And, let’s face it, this is exactly the sort of movie that needs Vic Tayback’s sweaty combover.
At one point Bo Lockley recalls his father telling him that responsibility is more important than power but this is a film where almost no one takes responsibility, or at least not the people who need to. All of this seems very familiar in the world we live in right now. Maybe one of the more surprising things about REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER is the PG rating complete with language that includes the n-word, plenty of violence and even some brief, if distant, nudity. But things were different in the ‘70s. And this is a film that’s worth seeing, so here’s a look at the trailer. There are echoes of neo-noir found in all this fatalism but it also feels like a natural part of the ‘70s weariness. And now, in 2022, the theme of cops fucking up, especially the ones in charge, seems more timely than ever. But this is just one of those things I’m looking for late at night. At least films like this don’t pretend things are better than they are. And that’s one way to get to sleep.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

This Empty Place Inside

It’s been some time now, but I still miss those late nights. The vibe of sitting at a bar, waiting for the next drink, taking in the mood all around me as the music plays. It’s not the drinking that I miss so much anymore—I’m six years sober by now and ok with leaving that behind—but the process of getting that drink and having it set down in front of me, whether the next martini at the Dresden (RIP to Marty of Marty & Elayne) or some elaborate concoction while crammed into Tiki Ti. Those late hours can be both the best and the worst time to think about those things you shouldn’t be spending too much time thinking about anymore. Thinking about all the wrong things you said, thinking about all the right things you never said. Maybe even the ways you’ll continue to screw things up as time goes on. But eventually you go to sleep. The mood never lasts and even those nights have to end.
While looking for things to watch during the isolation of the past few years I’ve found myself revisiting films unseen by me for decades and finding some of those that I’d long forgotten about strangely comforting. Which explains how one night I wound up on THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, the sort of film that I liked well enough when it was released back in the fall of 1989 but didn’t think about much beyond that. My loss, as it turns out. Which means that returning to the film so many years later makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking, so now I’m just regretting how it never fell into that regular rotation of DVDs I’ve watched way too many times. In some ways, it’s a film I’ve been looking for. At its very best this is a beautifully honed character piece, one that luxuriates in its mood and atmosphere, always giving life to the snap found in that razor sharp dialogue. Sitting here in 2022 it’s almost difficult to believe this was once a normal movie that opened in theaters and people actually went to on a Saturday night, all another reminder that we didn’t know how good we had it. In fairness, the film didn’t do much better than ok at the time but it did receive enough attention to get four Oscar nominations including Michelle Pfeiffer for Best Actress. And she should have won. Looking at the film now, it’s not just a reminder of what was normally found in movie theaters back then also but how much smaller dreams could once be. It’s about people who aren’t striving for the big time so much as simply trying to achieve just a little bit more with what they’re good at and hopefully making a connection with someone else who feels just as lost. It’s a film about adults facing adult problems, dealing with family and relationships and sex and regret and all the smoke hanging in the air along with those dreams that might evaporate quickly if you don’t do something about it fast. It’s not the sort of film that gets a cult; just people who remember it fondly. If only more people remembered it. We don’t get many of these movies anymore and it doesn’t seem like we will again anytime soon, but right now it’s like the idea of a film that achieves what this one does means more to me than ever.
Piano-playing brothers Jack and Frank Baker (Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges) have been working a lounge act called The Fabulous Baker Boys for years in Seattle but when bookings begin to dry up Frank gets the idea of adding a singer to bring something new to the act. Their auditions of multiple singers with no talent finally leads them to the tough-talking Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former escort who shows up late but impresses them with her voice and turns out to be exactly what they’re looking for. Her talents provide a boost to the act eventually resulting in a stint at a resort hotel for New Years’ Eve but the attraction also grows between Susie and Jack, who spends much of his time smoking cigarettes while brooding and secretly playing after hours in jazz clubs where he can pursue playing the way he really wants to. And as things develop between the two of them, the tension within the group becomes impossible to avoid.
For a film that struck me as comfort food upon first revisiting, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS does come with a slightly bitter taste. It’s a smooth movie in every possible way and at times feels like some of the best of what a commercial entertainment used to be, a film always looking to showcase the style found in these people and it has that style too. But it’s also a beautifully crafted character piece, providing wonderful roles for all three leads, a product of the ‘80s which combines sharp dialogue that could almost come out of the ‘40s with the feel of a ‘70s character piece, that sultry vibe in the air always mixing with the tension until no one has any idea what else to do with it. Written and directed by Steve Kloves, only twenty-nine when it was released, this is a film always willing to take the time to hold on the faces of these people as they get to know each other, always more interested in character than plot, always willing to wait for what the three of them have to say to each other as they talk around their feelings bubbling under the surface and flowing in a completely natural way. It doesn’t need a bigger plot than what it has and the actors work so well together that the chemistry between each of them becomes the plot, every scene clicking along together beautifully as if keeping in time with the music they perform every night.
The glamour is part of it but so is the bitterness coming off of Jeff Bridges’ performance as Jack which is always felt as he lingers on the edges of scenes to avoid saying how he really feels, mired in the self-hatred he has long since succumbed to and pushing away anyone who tries to get closer. He barely even responds, “I can carry a tune,” when Susie tells him how good he is but deep down he already knows it. It’s what makes him hate this silly act he does with his brother every night with those twinkling of the ivories through renditions of “The Girl From Ipanema” that are just a little too cheerful so he slinks into late-night jazz clubs by himself looking for something really he wants to play. When Susie turns up as they desperately look for a singer to join the act, she’s someone else who can find the soul in the music, a soul that Jack is looking for beyond anything he does with Frank but doesn’t even realize it. He remembers every date the act has ever played and hates it—boy, do I understand this—not needing all the tchotchkes and shot glasses that his brother, the businessman of the pair, hangs onto as mementoes. Frank is about the act more than the music, always looking to keep everyone happy. All Jack seems to want is a reason to love this again and Susie is the one who brings a genuine feeling to the act it never had.
That look on Michelle Pfeiffer’s face when she knows they’re going to let her audition no matter how late she was gets her to own the movie right away, just like Susie knows she owns them with her voice. She gets the music, the rare person who actually paid attention to the lyrics in order to let that voice bursting out of her tough girl exterior. Through all this, the dialogue written by Kloves displays a sharpness that keeps the characters active and alive but on the flipside of those lighter moments so much of the tension between Jack and Frank feels unspoken, as if by casting these two actual brothers we didn’t need more dialogue to explain things. It works beautifully, the familiarity always there whether it’s Frank chewing Jack out for missing a cue or just certain looks they give each other so when they finally have their big fight you can see it in their eyes what’s been held back for so many years. Frank is the responsible one and keeps everything going, seeing that as part of his job no matter how phony it gets as he tries to ignore his own flop sweat, slightly dorky but it’s all in service of the business of the act and trying to keep their bookers happy. He never pays attention to how much nobody else cares, so intent on making sure that everyone hits their cues that he doesn’t try to be any better. Susie Diamond knows that this is just a second rate lounge act, after all, but with that voice she knows that it can be bigger, even if just a little bit. Right from the start it’s clear that she’s got that voice. She’s got that thing. She’s got something Frank never even thought about before.
And she tries to get the act to aim higher whether in not playing the same stuff every night or realizing there could be some more money made out of this, as if it never occurred to them until she showed up and that shot at just a little more success surprises even them. The snap to the dialogue adds to the tension but Kloves also definitely knows how to use the camera, at times in subtly effective and intelligent ways during the silences that come in between. That scene out on the hotel terrace at the resort hotel is a beautiful example of how the movie is simply willing to linger in the moment, Frank stopping when he hears “Moonglow” playing and talking about how he’s never kissed his wife on New Year’s Eve, Jack off by himself on the side but you can still see the affection he has for his brother in his face. For this one night, these three people make sense together and the way the camera gazes at them is loving and inquisitive, letting us find who the characters are just by looking into their faces.
Even after all these years, the film is mostly remembered for the image of slinky Michelle Pfeiffer on that piano, accompanied by Jeff Bridges as she slowly, seductively makes her way through a rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee” and, in fairness, this is entirely justified. Pfeiffer is electric in this sequence, bringing a sensuality to the moment that shows just how much these two characters go perfectly together thanks to that music in a way they never can otherwise. The character work always comes through when she performs to growing crowds during the early montage of her performing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” so this is Susie doing the singing and showing how fearless she is, not Michelle Pfeiffer the Movie Star. But it’s also the camerawork by the great Michael Ballhaus completing the undeniable feel of old-school elegance—he received one of the Academy Award nominations, deservedly so, likely for these scenes—with the way that camera swings around during the New Years’ Eve show becoming part of that joint seduction between the two everything the films has been building towards, Jack and Susie as one up on that stage for that one night.
Getting lost in the chemistry between Jeff Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer during moments like this makes me think about how much films with this kind of sexual tension are missed in this day and age. I don’t even miss bars late at night as much. But even back then they rarely felt this potent, a sheer feeling of attraction between two people who are doing everything they can to not follow through on it and when they do give in there isn’t anything else quite like it. What with things like the new season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast I’m clearly not the only person noticing how much the very idea of this has been lost in films over the past few years, this sense of feeling and connection through sheer chemistry that goes beyond words. And the film knows that it doesn’t need those words, even when going for the laughs found in their tension during a sequence where the two of them are in the hotel suite trying to avoid all this, the story moves at a brisk clip throughout containing very little fat—William Steinnkamp, the film’s editor, was also nominated—but that sense of pace allows for the breathing room which lets the entire movie stop for that one scene between the two of them coming after the big New Years’ show, talking about stuff but really about how they’re out of reasons to not let this happen. When it finally does, there’s very little else to say in order to describe this feeling beyond the realization that there have been few things in the history of cinema sexier than Michelle Pfeiffer’s back.
Even the Dave Grusin score, the last of the four Oscar nominations, adds to this mood and though it may be common to associate that composer with the easy listening vibe found in his scores to certain films directed by Sydney Pollack (executive producer on this which is likely not a coincidence) here it always provides an added boost of energy even if the jazz that Jack really wants to play seems mostly be represented by that mellow Grusin sound which I’m sure some purist would object to and maybe they’d be right. But it’s a sound that feels just right to set the mood at the start while Jack walks through the streets of Seattle during the opening credits, wearing that wrinkly tux as night falls. The freeform nature of the theme keeps it playing in my head while thinking about this film and it’s also one more random thing that I miss in movies nowadays, the process of showing a character walk from one place to another, settling into this world but in this case it’s also a reminder of how much this film is about mood and how it can attach to us, our own private themes endlessly playing in hour heads long after we’ve ever given up on shaking them.
Of course, that feeling can only take you so far, just like those nights can only go on for so long, just like the things Jack doesn’t say to Susie, just like the way the tension between him and Frank eventually explodes by what he does say. At one point she objects to how many times she has to sing that lounge standard “Feelings”, making the fairly valid point how it’s a song that no one needs to ever hear again. But when she really does sing it, presumably against her wishes, at the point things are going sour you can hear in her voice both how much hates it as well as how the song, this silly and shallow song, has gotten into her and somewhere in the depths of all that shallowness the real feelings she’s going through begin to emerge. The moment goes by fast but Pfeiffer is remarkable in it, a transcendent display of all the thoughts going through her as she navigates these treacly lyrics. It’s also a reason why Susie is so good at what she does. And, like Jack, she just doesn’t want the reminder.
I’m still a little stuck on just how young Steve Kloves was at the time, coming five years after his first writing credit for 1984’s RACING WITH THE MOON. He directed one more film after this, 1993’s FLESH AND BONE, wrote the screenplay for 2000’s great WONDER BOYS then took off to script multiple Harry Potter films and he’s spent a good amount of time in that world ever since. THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS was his directorial debut and while it may not always live up to the adventurous visual style found in some of its best moments it definitely feels assured and the work of a filmmaker who always knows what he wants to get out of scenes, saving up for those key moments when the feelings will really matter. The formula is felt at times, what with the likable pre-teen girl neighbor Nina played by Ellie Raab who appears via the fire escape as well as his loyal dog, each there to presumably remind the audience he’s not a complete lowlife. But they still work as reminders of him looking for any connection he can still find that isn’t his brother and is desperately trying to hold onto even as he completely neglects both of them in various ways, like how he never bothered to teach Nina anything other than the opening of “Jingle Bells” on the piano. It’s all just one more reminder that Jack can’t fully commit to anything, even a conversation. This film is one of those cases where a star like Jeff Bridges smiles more in the production stills than he ever does in the movie but the moodiness in his eyes is always a reminder of how much he’s trying to dig himself out of that hole before it’s too late.
It’s the sort of film you want to go on for just a little while longer, to have the good times between the three linger just a bit more and it’s not too hard to imagine a TV spinoff that lets this happen. But the pacing seems just right the way it is so even the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray play like they were dropped more to keep the film to a running time under two hours than a case of scenes that didn’t work. It also seems to know that the good times don’t always linger, no matter how many good feelings are exchanged late at night. Things move fast. Susie even tells Jack how it can be the easiest thing in the world to get used to your own misery, to crawl into that empty place inside, as she puts it. Brooding melancholy will only get you so far, after all, no matter how much you want to climb in to wrap yourself up in that loneliness. In the end, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is a film that has those moments when you feel close to getting what you were groping toward, maybe without realizing and really showing just how good you can be at that one thing and maybe you shouldn’t forget that. It holds on the affection felt towards the three of them, no matter how fucked up each of them are in their own way, just like any of us are, just like I am. It doesn’t judge the three main characters but it clearly wants them to figure a few things out. Even the last scene doesn’t have more dialogue than it should, just enough to make what’s being said the start of an ongoing conversation between two people who are still feeling tentative about it all, as tentative as things can get and still feel like some semblance of a happy ending. The chemistry is there just as it always was but, for the moment, there’s no need to rush. The spark between them is still there even as the sun is out. So maybe there’s something to the light of day, after all.
Part of the film’s beauty is how it just lets these movie stars be movie stars, giving each of them material that lets them show just how good they really are. Jeff Bridges displays such confidence in his silence along with his body language, knowing that he doesn’t need to say anything more to get the point across. Even as much as he digs into Jack’s self-hatred, there’s still a charm to him that makes it easy to see why Susie might be drawn to him and in his silence we can see through his eyes how much he’s fighting to still care about certain things. Michelle Pfeiffer is spectacularly good in every scene, sharp with the dialogue and cool with the appeal until she can’t hold in her real feelings any longer so she can tell Jack what no one else has been able to. So much can be seen in her face, sometimes in just one tiny little look, through every one of her scenes that has a wonderful effect whether she’s holding back or letting it all out, she’s someone who couldn’t like if she wanted to, it’s all right there. I’m not sure Beau Bridges had gotten a part this good in years and it’s one of his best performances, balancing the desperation of Frank to be liked with how much he stays on them to keep the act together. He’s never going to be as cool as them and in that is where his strength comes from, trying to keep up with that attitude and letting them know that he’s not totally unaware of it all.
Much of the film is just the three leads along with the charming Ellie Raab as Jack’s young friend Nina who he claims he doesn’t take care of along with a brief appearance by the now-familiar Xander Berkeley as one of the nasty bookers the brothers have to deal with. But the other actor who really deserves special mention is Jennifer Tilly as Monica Moran, the first girl to audition for the Baker Boys at the start and in one scene gives us the most Jennifer Tilly performance ever that turns into something else next time we see her that even at just two short scenes, with her own special billing in the end credits, I’m tempted to say it’s the best role she ever had. Tilly is perfectly cast here with a screen presence that would be just as right in the classic Hollywood era as the three leads, getting a close-up here that she didn’t get in her first scene so the character isn’t quite the comic figure she once was, serving as the catalyst for Jack to force himself to look at someone like her for the first time and the moment forces him to make that change more than anyone else has and she’s just the right screen presence to do it.
Things do change and it’s unavoidable. We may not like it, we may not be happy about what goes away, but they do change and they have to. Maybe we need to force that change, to get things a little closer to where we want them to be. There’s always another girl, as Jack dismissively says to Susie. By the end, he realizes that sometimes there isn’t. That you already met her. There’s a kind of optimism found somewhere in there. But this is also a reminder of the films we don’t get anymore and while writing all this I sent the trailer to a friend who doesn’t care about movies very much, certainly not what gets released these days, and she texted back, now this is something I’d go to the theater to see! But right now it seems like all we can do is remember that we once got movies like this. Now suddenly, all these years later, this feels like what I want movies to be. At least some of them. THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is just the right movie for those nights where in your mind that smoke continues to hang in the air, like the memories of how close we once came.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

No Deceit In The Cauliflower

Let’s try this again. Not like anything is ever going to make sense. The truth is that most of my life I’ve known either New York or Los Angeles, not that I have any idea where else I’m supposed to go. My one and only trip to Minnesota was for a wedding where during the reception I found myself gravitating towards one particular side of the family, specifically the other New York Jews who had also traveled to be there. No matter how nice everyone else was, that was where I felt comfortable, that was where I felt I belonged. Of course, we spend so much of life trying to figure out where we belong and if certain people were ever really meant to be part of our lives at all. Sometimes the answers to those questions are more obvious than we want to admit. Maybe this is something we eventually learn, maybe we never learn a damn thing. We’re still going to fuck things up, of course. We are who we are.
Which brings us to THE HEARTBREAK KID, original version. Not “Elaine May’s THE HEARTBREAK KID” according to the credits, but we’ll get to that. The cult around the great Elaine May remains strong these days, at least in the world of Film Twitter, and interest surrounding the four films she directed seems to have grown with the reputations of A NEW LEAF, MIKEY AND NICKY and ISHTAR growing stronger, all of them remarkable in their own ways in spite of the now legendary postproduction issues each went through. So in one sense, her second film THE HEARTBREAK KID feels like an outlier. Whether it’s her best is a pointless debate—ask me on different days, I’ll give you different answers—but the argument could be made that its narrative spine does hold together better than any of them so it all flows together without some of the jagged rhythms contained in those others. The death last year of star Charles Grodin also served as a reminder of the fearlessness in his work here, not only cementing what would become his screen persona for all time but helping to make this a seamless fusion of performance and film.
THE HEARTBREAK KID received two Oscar nominations, always a little surprising for a comedy, but has sadly become difficult to see in recent years due to rights issues too dull to go into here. For now it can be found online in so-so quality at a certain site that starts with a Y and the audience response at a screening a few years ago proved that its edge hadn’t dulled. This is a film that can justifiably be called a comic masterwork but one that is also a profoundly uncomfortable experience, which wouldn’t be the case if there wasn’t any truth in there. People can be horrible, after all. Maybe if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be people. This is a film about the choices we make in what we pursue which can lead to us losing who we are, no matter how much we wanted it. It never feels daunted for a second in how far into the depths it’s willing to go for those laughs and in that sense remains a source of inspiration even if it’s a reminder about the choices that wind up leading us the wrong way.
Newlywed Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin) takes off for Miami Beach with his bride Lila (Jeannie Berlin) on their honeymoon where almost as soon as they arrive he meets blonde beauty Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd) on the beach, becomes instantly smitten and uses the ideal excuse of Lila’s horrible sunburn to keep her in the hotel room as he gets to know Kelly better. He meets her parents Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran (Eddie Albert and Audra Lindley) and is then determined to end his marriage as soon as possible, even if it means pursuing Kelly all the way back to her home in Minnesota leaving behind everything he knew in life before. '
Closing in on fifty years after it was released at the end of 1972, THE HEARTBREAK KID remains awe-inspiring like few other comedies I can think of, a high-wire act of cruelty and deadpan awkwardness done as light romantic comedy, with humor so deadly that the laughs hurt as they stick in your throat. The tone is unrelenting, going further beyond where you think it will go as it takes this premise and stretches it to see how far this feeling can go, beyond the point where you think it will break off and give you some relief, a moment that will make it all feel better and everyone can laugh. The lead character fearlessly lies and talks his way out of the situations he gets himself into until there’s no one around to call him on it but no matter how cruel the film becomes he always feels completely human in his determination, just horribly so, no matter how much emotional wreckage he causes thanks to his own selfishness. It’s hard not to shake the wish that the film is somehow going to give you a speck of relief but it remains committed to that goal as much as he is, completely unrelenting in that pursuit. Which makes it difficult to watch this film without wanting to flee the room at certain points but this is, of course, meant in the best possible way and its anti-comedy approach tricks you into thinking you know what it is, only to reveal that it’s about more than just the cruelty that it leads to.
The title card at the start specifically reads “Neil Simon’s THE HEARTBREAK KID” and that writer is the one credited with the screenplay based on the Bruce Jay Friedman short story “A Change of Plan”, but the possessory credit stating ‘An Elaine May Film’ follows immediately as if to underline who is really responsible for the approach it takes, not to mention its view of humanity. It certainly doesn’t feel like any other Neil Simon movie from the period, films that vary in quality but all seem like part of the same assembly line with directors who are mostly tasked to keep everything in order as opposed to bringing a real point of view to the material. In his autobiography “It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here” Grodin writes how it was decided during production that the Simon version of a scene would always be shot but May would also film more takes to add whatever embellishments or improvisations she wanted and the film would be put together around that. Simon agreed to this approach, then proceeded to vanish after several days of watching all this begin to take shape. The bones of a Simon narrative can be found in the structure if you squint hard enough but instead of focusing on the expertly timed wisecracks the approach it takes is in looking for the silences found within the reality of how these people might actually react to each other, as if it’s a main character who is looking for that snappy patter only to find everyone reacting to him as if they live in a normal world, in understandable disbelief to what they’re hearing. While some of Simon’s work is about the dichotomy between New York and what’s out there in the rest of the country, specifically California, this film takes aim at the differences between east coast and the white bread middle in the most cutting way possible. The wedding at the start feels strictly working class in how tiny and imperfect it is but this is also the single most joyous part of the film, the cries of ‘Mazeltov!’ coming from those New York Jews which gives the feeling that this is real life, these are their people, this is where the joy is found. When Lenny finds out that Kelly is from Minnesota his disbelieving “It’s so far from New York!” response is one that sounds like he never considered people might live anywhere else, that he comes from a place where ‘the element’ he was a part of is exactly what her father doesn’t like at their hotel which he remains undeterred by. “He hasn’t met you yet, but just from appearances he doesn’t like you,” Kelly tells him later on which almost seems to make him more determined to prove just how far he might be willing to go.
Looking at her other films it becomes clear how much Elaine May loves the men in them through all their horribleness and desperation, but in the case of THE HEARTBREAK KID it feels more like her camera staring unblinking at what Lenny is doing, possibly in awe at what he’s trying to get away with. In fairness, it doesn’t really seem to like anyone else in the film either, except for maybe the extras at the opening wedding; the audience might develop sympathy for Lila, but clearly that’s not the film’s job. What exactly drives Lenny to do this is never explained as if it’s all some indefinable other thing that he’s going for, which never occurred to him until he finds himself out on the road actually interacting and sleeping with his new bride with that brief shot of him sitting across from her as she sleeps, staring, wondering who the hell this is and what he’s done. Through everything she does, her overly aggressive nature on the road, cutesy bed talk and even what she orders in a restaurant, by the time the road trip is done it’s like we’ve gotten a full short film detailing every aspect of their relationship. In fairness, maybe a double order of egg salad isn’t necessary and, sure, she could have listened to Lenny when he suggested she put suntan lotion on but it’s all still kind of endearing even when she’s a little much. Lila only wants him and what they have together, for the next 40 or 50 years as she puts it, already looking forward to when their coffins can sit side by side. Lenny only sees the things he’s suddenly learning about her, as if she’s messing with the perfection he wants to project and sell to people when he looks at himself in the mirror. His pursuit of Kelly the shiksa goddess to end all shiksa goddesses quickly begins to feel like he’s decided to have a staring contest with the entire world, even if it’s just out of spite to prove he can do this as if he’s starring in his very own romantic comedy about what a catch he is, maybe even one written by Neil Simon with a fun title like THE HEARTBREAK KID. All this is like a rationalization as if to search for motivation in the horrible lies he’s telling Lila but marriages in Elaine May films, not that there are many of them, always feel tenuous with the communication wires are always getting crossed as the husband shouts down the wife’s well-meaning intentions, keeping as much from them as possible, trying to avoid the trouble they’re getting into.
Lenny is literally blinded by Kelly on first sight. It’s really the sun behind her that does this, of course, indicative of how he seems to misjudge everything right off the bat even though he remains blinded by her through every enigmatic answer she gives him to his questions, whether actually clever or not. But Lenny dives right in and when he tells Kelly that he’s all in it almost happens before we expect him to, coming up with lies so unbelievable to Lila that she has to accept them as truth in that agonizing silence when he finally gets into bed with her, knowing it will probably be for the last time. “Were you really in an accident, Lenny?” she asks after listening to the story about what happened to him that night, then after all his flailing the horrible silence just hangs there as she looks at him. Instead of keeping this going for an entire movie it simply rips the band aid off through a dinner sequence where he finally breaks the bad news that pushes everything past the boundaries of that agony, Grodin’s pauses become longer and longer, like an improv sketch that he’s been told to stretch out as far as conceivable as if desperately waiting for someone else to talk for him, that certain piece of pecan pie he’s been talking about for so long giving him an excuse to put it off a little longer, groping towards finally giving her the news and when he does still won’t let her get away, telling her all the good that’s going to come out of this and still trying to sell it to her. It’s all made even more brutal by how when it finally gets to the moment of truth the scene is only half over, on one hand unbelievably cruel towards Lila but also forcing us to pay attention to her response while Lenny keeps talking. Any other film with a shred of mercy would likely cut away but any other film wouldn’t pay such close attention to what’s really going on.
This long, horrific, mesmerizing, painfully funny scene is one of the key moments in the film’s structure which can be broken down into several points of negotiation that Lenny must traverse, deadly and heartless but always human, viciously so. Earthy, sexy, funny and agonizing all at once, of course Lila isn’t a bad person. There would hardly be any point in watching the film if she was and the whole point is that she’s not portrayed as a shrew or some sort of nonentity. Her immaturity makes her feel like she’s a little girl in an adult body, needing both her parents help to walk down the aisle at her own wedding, probably never having been away from them for too long. Which makes her helpless up against what Lenny assumes is the cool sophisticated quality that Cybill Shepherd’s Kelly projects, even if she’s just as much of a pampered little girl in her own way. Lila is discarded and has to be, by both the film and Lenny, but it demands we pay attention to her in those giant close-ups when she’s still around, in some ways getting just as annoyed as he is and it is painful but so much of the humor comes out of how much that pain is felt. How much he remains blinded.
Elaine May’s direction is all about focusing on these elements so we feel every excruciating moment, those giant close-ups that make Lenny speechless or when it’s him and another person facing off in the frame, on what Lenny is confronted with and how he’s choosing to handle each moment. It’s not so much about the specifics of composition but director of photography Owen Roizman, at this point somewhere in between shooting THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST for William Friedkin, adds to the intensity by often cramming Charles Grodin into as tight a frame as possible, to force him in there and make us keep watching so we can’t escape from the shot any more than he can. After all, this film is probably about as upsetting as THE EXORCIST in the end. The stylistic extremes displayed by May’s former partner Mike Nichols in directing THE GRADUATE don’t seem to interest her as much but the people do, so in this context it becomes very clear that Jeannie Berlin eating that double egg salad sandwich is Cinema. Even the main theme sung by Bill Dean is more a piece of early 70s easy listening that sticks in your brain whether you like it or not than something by Simon & Garfunkel that seems intrinsically a part of the film, the peppy tone going ideally against the darkness along with those recurring lyrics of “Close to You” running through Lenny’s head. The directorial approach is blunt instead of elegant, a point of view of the world—of both worlds in this film—which forces us to look at it through that prism. It’s an unrelenting sort of pain felt particularly in that one long unbroken shot of Grodin ‘laying out his cards’ has he faces Eddie Albert, with Cybill Shepherd and Audra Lindley in the middle reacting, is as good as anything and so brave in that display of how long it’s willing to wait for the explosion.
The two films can be compared to each other for a variety of reasons and maybe even the weakest stretch of THE GRADUATE when Benjamin follows Elaine up to Berkeley matches up with the weakest stretch here, when Lenny turns up in Minnesota and is forced to suddenly find ways to impress Kelly who at first tells him little more than, “Gee, I’m really flattered,” while on the way to English Lit to win her over (his impersonation of a Justice Department narcotics officer feels half developed and is likely the weakest moment in the film but I’m hardly the first to point out how it looks forward to the Litmus Configuration scene in MIDNIGHT RUN), turning a wisp of an image into someone forced to display some kind of motivation to her behavior, even if this film isn’t about giving us the satisfaction of actual reason which most of the time people in real life don’t do either. The scene where Lenny confronts Kelly in his car feels like they’ve never spoken before and in some ways they haven’t so it makes sense that there’s almost nothing to say about their relationship because there really isn’t one. All he has is the pursuit and when finally alone with Kelly she has him play a game where they stand naked close to each other without touching it’s as if she’s instigating him into a life of no meaningful contact with another human ever again. Even when she talks about how positive Lenny is just like her father, who never seems all that warm and encouraging a person, we never know if she means a word of it and even that ultimately means nothing.
Interestingly, in his book Charles Grodin mentions that he got along great with Jeannie Berlin during filming but didn’t get to know Shepherd at all and, whether intentionally or not, this worked out perfectly for their utter lack of chemistry, two people with absolutely nothing of substance to say to each other. Kelly is every bit the vision that early ‘70s Cybill Shepherd would be but also a blank magazine cover of beauty with little beyond her own private jokes, daring Lenny to keep talking until she loses interest, always looking like she’s about to crack up for her own reasons. The character isn’t even seen during the final seconds of the film, in one sense surprising since it has always seemed like everything was about her, but in truth it never really was and by this point she doesn’t even matter. Eddie Albert as her father barely seems to look at her through the entire movie, certainly not during the great laying out of the cards scene. The showdown over her as a commodity between the two men is the real confrontation things have been building to, this film’s own version of Benjamin Braddock endlessly driving up and down the state of California, and feels like those other Elaine May films about two men sitting across from each other when the real truth comes out. “There’s no deceit in the cauliflower” is an all-timer, spoken during Lenny’s soliloquy about the honesty found in their simple Midwestern dinner, but gets made even funnier by Kelly’s outraged father repeating it back to him in disbelief, outraged he’s being forced to actually sit down and talk to this guy with the ‘New York head’ who he hates so much.
Grodin also wrote about men coming up to him to say how much they identified with his character, looking up to him for snagging the beautiful blonde, which he found unnerving. He’s right, of course, but there are plenty of things to identify with here, just not the sort of things you go up to the star to eagerly share with them. Which is the point, since if there wasn’t anything in there to identify with then it wouldn’t get under our skin the way it does. The final moment sidesteps going for an expected punchline in favor of a quiet realization by the main character, a salesman with nothing left to sell, a life that he’s left behind and can’t return to. The simplicity of the line “I was ten” which isn’t really spoken to anyone as he sits there on that couch at the end faced with what he’s done and what he can’t return to lands in the most brutal way possible which is what the ending has to be. The plasticity of love has been around him though the whole movie, from the songs sung by him and Lila on their road trip to what seems like the welcoming sights on Miami Beach and those are the things that surround us all, until it envelopes you while trying to resist it and suddenly there’s no way to tell the difference. The real thing, to use a line from a certain song, is what you sing with someone you want to be with, until suddenly it becomes something you hum to yourself when you’re alone. It’s an ending that gives this film life, all-encompassing self-loathing life.
A crucial part of all that is how astoundingly good and unrelentingly fearless Charles Grodin is this role, seemingly not caring at all about what an audience was going to think about him. He never winks, he never makes you think that he’s judging this guy, he understands that if he doesn’t keep talking all this might collapse. Coming after smaller parts in ROSEMARY’S BABY and CATCH-22, here he both establishes what the Grodin screen persona will be for all time while also totally obliterating it. Maybe he was better in certain roles later on—as always, we come back to MIDNIGHT RUN—but there’s something pure in this. As Kelly, Cybill Shepherd takes a part which almost seems deliberately underwritten but while we may be paying attention to her beauty, makes it all about both what she’s saying or not saying at the same time, how serious is she ever about anything, really, but as if she’s ready to burst out laughing at any moment, as if daring the people around her to call her bluff on how far she thinks her adorableness will take her. The Oscar-nominated Eddie Albert is astounding, spending part of his screentime doing little more than seething as Grodin attempts to get in his good graces, waiting for that moment where he can lower the boom to this man that he clearly despises, with the always delightful Audra Lindley by his side trying to make things more pleasant. Jeannie Berlin, also Oscar-nominated as well as May’s daughter, is unforgettable as Lila, never looking for our sympathy as if both examining her from the outside and fully inhabiting her from the inside, bringing a cheerful, annoying innocence as she tells Lenny “I put cream on,” with that cream slathered all over her face. She says it with such unthinking hope that you want to take care of her and yet as part of how human, how horribly human, the movie is you can totally understand what Lenny is really thinking at that precise moment.
Movies can remind us of ourselves, our own past and our own fuckups. Sometimes a little too much. They’re a part of our lives, after all, a reminder of all the Kellys and Lilas we’ve known. That doesn’t change. Nothing makes sense anymore, not what we want, not what we’re going to get and, these days, we’re still not sure where we belong. Once when briefly introduced to Jeannie Berlin her at a party, she gave me a look of total disinterest. Maybe I didn’t belong there either. After the wedding that begins THE HEARTBREAK KID, Lila keeps telling Lenny how they’re going to be together for the next 40 to 50 years, almost as long as Grodin himself was around after this movie. Makes you wonder how Lenny spent that time. I mean, what are the things we’re looking for in our lives when we decide we want to be with somebody. What do we really want, deep down? I if we know the answer, can we say it out loud or do we keep going over it in our minds, along with all those reminders of the way we fucked things up. Sometimes that doesn’t change and it likely won’t in the future, no matter how much we learn. Maybe you have to be from New York to understand. Maybe you just have to be able to remember certain things and know when you were wrong. Maybe we never know.