Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina
MPAA Rating: (for some sexual content and language, and for accident and surgery images)
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 6/19/15 (limited); 6/26/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 26, 2015
There are a few people who think A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) was or, at least, could have been a great man at one time or another, but there's only one adult who thinks he's a pretty good guy in his current condition, although that might simply be on account of low expectation. None of these people is Manglehorn himself, who has spent decades in relative isolation.
His family wants little or nothing to do with him, and he doesn't appear to want much from them, either. He owns and runs a key-making shop, so his daily interactions are primarily with people in a rush or a jam that needs quick resolution. His only friend is his cat, and even his pet has to go away for intestinal surgery, since it somehow swallowed a key. In his downtime, he drinks a bit too much, pines over and writes letters to a lost love from long ago, and gets into fits of rage that leave the furniture in his shabby and shadowy house upended, to be dealt with in the early light of the morning hangover.
Manglehorn looks at this man and his life with a kind of sympathy that approaches and then surpasses pity. The man is hopeless and helpless, and if there's any salvation to be had for him, it will only come with a complete overhaul of his personality, his behavior, and his outlook on life. His existence is marred by so much gloom that we spend most of the movie assuming that his story is a doomed one.
There are shreds of hope here and there, but Manglehorn is too stuck in his misery to see them for what they are. This is, at least in theory, an intriguing starting point for drama. It's far more involving to watch a man stacked against himself than to follow a man with the odds stacked against him. Situations can be overcome with various levels of effort, but to overcome one's nature is always going to be some degree of difficulty—from incredibly difficult to damn-near impossible.
The reason, though, that we foresee disaster in Manglehorn's future is that he is a static character. He neither makes progress nor falls further into despair throughout the movie. He remains as he is until the story's climax, which might as well go one way or the other for as inert as the character is. Whether he improves or destroys himself isn't so much dictated by the character as it is by the point screenwriter Paul Logan wants to make with the character.
The only consistent bright spot in Manglehorn's miserable routine is his weekly visit to the bank, where Dawn (Holly Hunter), the clerk on whom he waits to conduct his weekly business deposit, is always ready with a smile and kind word. She is also alone, save for her pet dog, which has also recently had surgery. On one of those weekly trips, a man walks into the bank with flowers and serenades one of Dawn's co-workers. It's an awkward enough moment without the obvious tension between Manglehorn and Dawn. Eventually, he asks her to join him at a pancake breakfast at a local veterans club, and despite her obvious adoration for the man, the relationship with a man who seems to thrive on melancholy goes as expected.
His son Jacob (Chris Messina) is a successful commodities trader, and it's actually difficult to tell which of the men hates the other more. The son resents his father for abandoning his mother and him for no discernable reason, and the father can't stand that his son has sold his soul in the pursuit of money. The only thing keeping the two men together in some fashion is Jacob's daughter (Skylar Gasper), whom Manglehorn sees once a week. The girl's nanny (Marisa Varela) tells the girl a story of how her grandfather once helped an injured bull at a rodeo, as if Manglehorn had some mystical connection to the beast.
Other people have similar stories involving the man. Gary (Harmony Korine), whom Manglehorn coached in little league baseball decades ago, remembers one and thinks Manglehorn was a legitimately great man, and even Jacob recalls a story of how the evidence of one his father's displays of anger seemed to mend as if by magic. These scenes—monologues of unseen miraculous deeds—are the only hints from Logan that Manglehorn is not completely lost, but they exist in a vacuum separated from the character, who gives his own running soliloquy (in the form of letters to the woman who got away) of regret, self-hatred, defeat, and incurable sadness to guide our understanding of who he is.
Pacino and director David Gordon Green's restrained approaches to, respectively, the character and the material keep the movie from becoming too much of a pity party for Manglehorn. After spending so much time encouraging us to feel sorry for the guy, though, there comes a point when Manglehorn leaves us feeling nothing for him. We know he will eventually rise or fall. It could go either way, and both ways would fit what we know about Manglehorn. That's drama in the same way flipping a coin is.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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