by Sam Fragoso
In one of his more infamous reviews, Roger Ebert wrote “Only enormously talented people could have made Death to Smoochy. Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience. To make a film this awful, you have to have enormous ambition and confidence, and dream big dreams.”
This philosophy – which suggests only the most creative minds are capable of making the best and worst films – aptly describes Manglehorn, the latest film from director David Gordon Green. Born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, it’s damn near impossible to classify or categorize Green’s work. Varied and eclectic, the only throughline in Green’s career is that there’s is no throughline – no theme or aesthetic that ties his films together. A master in indiscrimination, one has to look no further than George Washington, Your Highness, and Prince Avalanche, all of which appear to have been created by an entirely different human being.
Manglehorn does not buck this trend. Described as a “naturalistic fairy tale” by Green himself, the movie stars Al Pacino as the eponymous character – a forlorn man still working through the heartbreak of a woman he lost many years ago. Living alone with one (albeit estranged) son to keep him company, his only source of interaction is through his work as a locksmith and his banking transactions.
Over the course of depositing money at the same bank on the same day every week, Manglehorn develops a relationship with a clerk named Clara (Holly Hunter). Soon the two decide to extend their chemistry and conversation beyond FDIC-insured institutions.
There is nothing outlandish about this premise. After a lifetime of experiences and romances, discovering new love at an old age is not improbable. New beginnings – and people whose lives are unexpectedly altered after years of stagnation and familiarity – have often made for fascinating stories. But Manglehorn is no Beginners, nor nearly as whimsical or as thoughtful as it believes itself to be.
Watching Manglehorn attempt to court Clara is equally confounding and saddening on two levels.
First, watching this troubled man making an effort to connect with another human being, to give himself over to her in hopes that he can find love again, is painful to endure. The affection he gives her is not quite unrequited, but it’s not mutual either. Second, the way in which Green explores this tumultuous terrain is baffling. Aside from the indecipherable narration, Pacino and Hunter have next to zero chemistry. Perhaps their lack of rapport is intentional, Green illustrating just how difficult it is to break the emotional barriers erected by age. However, even with that subtext applied, Manglehorn is too incompetent to be affecting.
What is initially a minor mess quickly spirals into a colossal bore – a movie so listlessly written and constructed that it nearly redefines tedium. Pacino and Hunter do what they can with the material they’re given, but even Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell couldn’t make this work.
More troubling is that there’s no ambiguity as to what Green was going for here. When you preface a screening of your film by calling it a, “naturalistic fairy tale,” it ironically leaves little to the imagination.
The Good: A father/son scene between Pacino and Chis Messina is the only powerful moment in the movie.
The Bad: The incoherency, the tedium, the (see above)
On the side: The role of A.J. Mangelhorn was conceived with Al Pacino in mind.