Monday, January 25, 2010

Joshua Then and Now

(Ted Kotcheff, 1985)
This tale of a Jewish guy who marries a WASP has an incomplete, tinkered-with feel to it. The obvious re-editing of a random late scene into a recurring framing device doesn't work; James Woods' sporadic voiceover narration fails to find the right tone and adds little to our understanding. There's real charm in the movie's refusal of epic grandeur as it spans decades and continents, and real energy in the unbroken array of crooks and vulgarians. Entertaining scene for scene, it ultimately feels a little empty, drifting into a Jew-among-the-Gentiles shtick that becomes predictable after a while and doesn't resolve. As the amusingly shady dad, Alan Arkin is fun enough to wish he was around more, and to regret that he wasn't better integrated into the narrative; halfway through he becomes an inert dispenser of folk wisdom, and everyone around him is reduced to audience. The Ponzi scheme subplot doesn't really go anywhere either. And in a movie this cynical, the cheerily romantic happy ending is incongruous and wrong. Gabrielle Lazure's long and unbroken descent from charming lover to stressed-out harpy is righted without adequate explanation, complication or follow-through; some vaseline gets smeared on the lens and suddenly it's over.

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