Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:32 am 
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A setting unworthy

In Max Rose, about a widower tormented by suspicion and despair, Jerry Lewis (now 90) shows he can still be a riveting performer to watch. But the craft of the movie he's in, alas, is nowhere near up to his level. Max Rose (Lewis) is a former jazz pianist, though that background remains sketchy. He is cold and critical toward his son (Kevin Pollak). There's warmth and affection with his granddaughter (Kerry Bishé), though he contrives to remain just as grouchy and grim with her. Max is gloomy to the point of stasis. He will not even go to bed. He is haunted by memories, and a woman's compact with an inscription hints that his wife (Claire Bloom, only glimpsed) had an affair, so he dismisses his 65-year marriage as a sham - though flashbacks show the couple snuggling in bed.

Later, Max has been transferred to a retirement home. He adjusts to this surprisingly well, and indulges in gay camaraderie with several lively fellow-codgers (played by Lee Weaver and Mort Sahl, among others). This includes a rather implausible night out drinking and smoking, with much merriment. After that, Max tracks down the "other man" (Dean Stockwell), an oldster in bed wracked with a terrible cough, and gets an explanation. These changes are never quite convincing or felt.

The construction of this film is wobblier than its seemingly indomitable star (who has suffered from his own severe health, addiction and depression problems). All the settings seem lived-in and real, and the oldsters Max encounters at the home are lively and authentic in their way, though as they are used, they provide nothing that is new. The writing, which is jerky and clichéd, never provides a rounded portrait of the protagonist, and his alterations are abrupt and unconvincing. The choppy editing of flashbacks is irritating and ugly and the flashbacks themselves aren't put to effective use.

It may seem a cruel comparison. But Max Rose's trajectory resembles that of one of the most brilliant movies about aging of recent years, Andrew Haigh's Forty-Five Years. In both cases something arises to make a long marriage seem a sham. It's a tricky idea to pull off at best, but Forty-five years has the benefit of unreeling in a time sequence and milieu that feel organic. Above all, it is illuminated by the wonderful acting of its stars, Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, who have a well-constructed script to work with. Max Rose is fuzzy about how and when the suspicions arose and clumsy and abrupt in its progressions. In its second half, the oldster's camaraderie makes one think of the amiable Roman codgers in Gianni Di Gregorio's Mid-August Lunch. That's another disastrous comparison, because Di Gregorio's people are so wholly indigenous to the rich world they inhabit. Here, the bonhomie seems irrelevant and tacked-on.

Clowns can play tragic and poignant, as we know. The risk is that they'll get corny. Jerry Lewis is too severe for that, and this is the good thing about this unsatisfying movie. The music is by the illustrious (and elderly) Michel Legrand.

Max Rose, 83 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2013, but stayed in the can till 10 Apr. 2016, when it reopened at MoMA, NYC. Screened at Albany Cinema 16 Sept.

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