Thursday, August 29, 2019

Reserved Seating Goes All Pacino: MANGLEHORN

by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
The review duo always have good dates with Holly Hunter.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: Our All Pacino series continues with 2014’s Manglehorn, written by Paul Logan and directed by Halloween (2018)’s David Gordon Green. Pacino plays the titular Manglehorn, an elderly recluse whose modest daily routine is comprised mostly of caring for his cat, eating pancakes at the local diner, and writing letters to his long-lost love, Clara. Manglehorn’s odd habits and personal demons prevent him from getting as close as he’d like with his son, Jacob (Chris Messina) or beautiful bank teller, Dawn (Holly Hunter), but a sudden spiritual awakening offers him a way to make amends for past mistakes.

Manglehorn is essentially Sad Danny Collins mixed with (as Adam referenced in our conversation before beginning this column) Old Man Paterson. Though Green composes it well and Pacino gives a delicate and introspective performance, it’s hard not to feel like this has all been done more effectively elsewhere. It’s a little muddled, a little dry. I’m honestly not sure where to begin on this one. Adam, what did you think of Manglehorn?

Adam: My first impulse was that Manglehorn went off the tracks early on. I didn’t find the first 45 minutes engaging really at all. It feels very removed and artsy for artsy sake. Then there’s a scene of a failed date between Al Pacino and Holly Hunter that was brutal. I don’t mean brutal like it’s poorly played. I mean brutal in the sense that it’s a depiction of one of those life moments that you know will have a negative lingering effect on both parties for years. That scene alone is worth this movie existing. It’s incredible work by Pacino and especially Holly Hunter. Then I started considering if the first 45 minutes of the film feeling adrift was purposeful because the entire movie is from Manglehorn’s point of view and he’s completely lost in his seething temper and ruminations of past love lost. He’s not in the moment, and neither is the movie as a result. Is that enough to make me appreciate Manglehorn overall? No, not really, but it makes it more interesting than I initially thought.
Rob: One of the things I noticed was that Manglehorn is often humming the old standard, “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Now, there are a lot of reasons why this song might have been chosen, but it struck me as funny that it’s the same one that (ENGLISH TEACHER ALERT) Blanche DuBois hums to herself throughout A Streetcar Named Desire. I won’t get into why (just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the story), but there are more than a few similarities between the two characters.

Adam: I didn’t put that together, but now I can see it. It’s been a while since I’ve read or seen A Streetcar Named Desire. That’s a good movie. Manglehorn reminded me a lot of not only Paterson, but also a movie I liked more than both called Lucky starring Harry Dean Stanton from a couple of years ago. All are about an introverted, lonely-ish guy navigating his way through a mundane life in a small town setting. Lucky finds a way of finding grace in tedium that I think Paterson is successful at half the time (it’s too quirky the other half). Manglehorn is sort of this weird middle juncture of the three films. Pacino’s character is basically if Adam Driver’s in Paterson soured but had not yet become at peace with himself like Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky. My biggest gripe about Manglehorn, though, is that the movie sells out its lead character in the end. I won’t spoil it, but I felt like Manglehorn’s awareness of himself and how his behavior affects others felt false. This guy would never change at that point in his life in my opinion. Did you have a similar feeling?
Rob: Absolutely. There’s a point late in the third act where the movie bails on being interesting and just becomes a movie. To quote Abed from Community: “You can always wrap it up with a series of random shots, which, when cut together under a generic voiceover, suggest a profound thematic connection.” Manglehorn sort of throws up its hands and lets the audience do the rest. What did you think of Harmony Korine’s performance? Did the key motif bother you as much as it bothered me (a lot)?

Adam: I want to hear more about the key motif because it just sort of faded into the background for me.

Rob: Maybe I was making more of it than it was meant to be? I just kept thinking about him as a locksmith, the cat swallowing the key and needing surgery, and the way images of keys are overlaid during the dreamier moments. I think that might just be my David Lynch brain misfiring. Carry on.

Adam: The Harmony Korine performance was about what I’d expect from a Harmony Korine performance in a David Gordon Green movie. It’s a thing. I was fascinated by the detail that Manglehorn was once a youth baseball coach and perceived by people (maybe just Korine) as somewhat magical. Nothing in the film suggests that other than testimonials. The Harmony Korine bits made me want to see a movie with Pacino as a little league baseball coach. What a weird coincidence considering we just revisited The Bad News Bears. What did you think of the pancake scene where Manglehorn goes into a monologue about sick kids that drowned at a carnival? It unintentionally played for laughs to me because the actors opposite him seem to be almost too good at acting caught off-guard. I’m convinced they had no idea what Pacino was going to say, he just improvised this awful story to tell them and they had no idea how to react. I also chuckled when Pacino finishes this story, checks in on his stunned friends and just says (I’m paraphrasing) “So... anyways….”
Rob: I definitely got the sense that Al was given a lot of latitude in this one. Stuff like that was weird, but is it bad that the one scene that really bothered me was the one in the car with his son telling the story about Manglehorn destroying the kitchen? I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel about that. Are there any other moments where the movie shifts away from Al’s point of view? It muddles things up more than they already were. I know it’s a small detail, but I’m grasping at straws with this movie. The whole thing feels like forced profundity. It’s a gourmet chef presenting you with a cheese sandwich. Anything else on Manglehorn?

Adam: The last thing I had to say was even though I don’t really like the movie, I’m appreciative of it because it gives us an example of what I’m calling “Deep Stage Pacino.” You just know he’s worked this character out exhaustively and it translates completely on screen. It’s super actor-y in a way that only someone who spends a lot of time on stage could deliver. Pacino gets written off as only hammy by some, but the pleasure of going through his filmography is getting the full range of his acting styles. I like to listen to a podcast called “The Big Picture” and when mentioning Pacino’s performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, they said how they were happy directors like Quentin Tarantino existed that know an actor like Al Pacino needs space to expand his wings. For better and for worse, David Gordon Green knows to do that in Manglehorn. Next week we’re back with our discoveries from August. Until next time...

Rob: These seats are reserved.

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