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Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Father Figure

Way back in July of last year, I posted a wonderfully cheesy song from the soundtrack of a lesser-known Al Pacino film of the 1980s, Author! Author! This film also happens to be one of my absolute favorite guilty pleasures. I watch it at least every couple of months or so. The film is written by Israel Horovitz and directed by Arthur Hiller and follows the the travails of Ivan Travalian (probably not a coincidence) a successful New York playwright through the casting and opening of his new play on Broadway.
But it's not really about the play.
Ivan lives with his wife, Gloria (Tuesday Weld), his son from a previous marriage, and Gloria's four children from three previous marriages. Then, Gloria leaves.
This film was pretty much trashed by the critics. They thought the kids were too precocious. They thought Al Pacino was too manic and rambling and that his line delivery was odd. They thought that some of the characters were a little too broad.
Okay. These are all things that I love about the film. The kids are smart and funny - they're written by Israel Horovitz, how could they not be? The cast of young actors deftly crosses the line from comedy to drama and back again. Included in the cast is a young Ari Meyers in her first major role. (Oh, such a crush I've had on her since Kate & Allie.) I think Pacino's performance is perfect, and I'm sorry that he doesn't do more comedy. One reviewer criticized his mumbling. I don't know. Clean your ears, dude. I understood every word.
Yes, the supporting characters are a little broad. Alan King as the larger-than-life wheeler-dealer producer chews scenery like nobody's business, and you love him for it. Dyan Cannon is adorable as a quirky L.A. actress in her first stage role. As the intrepid director who doesn't actually like the play, Bob Dishy is a stitch. Richard Belzer appears in a minor but memorable role as the gay stage manager.
One of my favorite characters in the movie, though, is the city of New York. My first trip to New York City was in 1986, and this movie is how I remember it.
Push aside the city, and the odd characters, and the cheesy theme song (all of which I love), and you find that this is still a movie with a heart and a message. Horovitz's story comments on an age when people move from marriage to marriage leaving heartache and sad children in their wake. He is quoted as saying, "The film had to be written in a comic mode, otherwise it's too painful to deal with."
I agree, and, in my opinion, John McClane could stop an alien invasion with a water pistol and a pair of needle-nose pliers, and he would still not be the hero that Ivan Travalian is in this movie.
Author! Author! is, at this writing, available for streaming on Netflix, or, if you ask me very nicely, I might let you borrow my copy on one condition: I get to watch it with you.

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