by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. David Gordon Green
Al Pacino always looked good for his age. He was fifty twenty-five years ago, and he managed to portray the lives of men decades younger. Bouncing around like a hyper Italian Elia Kazan, Pacino stepped into every type of part you can imagine with the same aggravating way of speaking, like he was inserting breaths where there should not be any.
In Manglehorn he plays a dissatisfied old locksmith who meets a bank teller (Holly Hunter). She is the kind of person who wakes up every day exciting for what is to come, she explains, which makes her a very wise 57. She looks way too young for Al, who shows his age by taking a bad spill while tripping over a plant on their first date.
Angelo Manglehorn has a Persian cat named Fanny who eats a number twelve key that he sells in his locksmithery. A veterinarian removes the obstacle from the animal’s duodenum; the hospital astonishingly allows 24 hour visitation. Manglehorn uses it as an excuse to get out of the prospecgt of intimacy on his date with Holly Hunter, who makes the error of suggesting that they see a movie.
I don’t think Pacino can sit comfortably for that long. Manglehorn at first seems to be making fun of him, if not Texas. Neither would be in very good taste, except that the vibrant life that surrounds this broken-down person is altogether more interesting than he is. Manglehorn witnesses a six car pileup that is in better shape than his personality. Everyone is perpetually having a more terrific time than he is.
Harmony Korine plays the owner of a male tanning salon, Tan Man. Chris Messina plays Manglehorn’s son Jacob, an unhappy broker who offers his father money rather than emotional sustenance. Instead of being pleased, Manglehorn complains about the quality of the dinner his child treats him to — he is a very ungrateful keymaker.
Gordon Green displays everything at arm’s length, rarely lingering for a close-up of his subject. This is brilliant, because it gives us the chance of forgetting we are looking at the husk of Al Pacino all the time. The resulting creature envisioned in its own environment becomes something far different than his usual imitation of himself. It is enough that this is not a parody — Green is a lot more tolerable as a filmmaker when he is completely sincere, and Manglehorn is nothing but utterly serious at all times.
In one scene, in order to please his old Little League coach, Harmony Korine treats Manglehorn to a sexual massage. Instead of thanking him profusely, Angelo breaks his lamp and screams, “You don’t know me!” This is not played as a joke whatsoever.
A soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky gives a dreamy happiness to Manglehorn‘s redemption, as if Angelo’s dissatisfaction with the world can only help but give rise to the opposite. The cat eventually recovers from its surgery, and Manglehorn ends up giving his son an important loan with money he had been saving for some woman he drove away through endless complaining about the price of food and his mortgage. He burns all the photos of the girlfriend he longed for along with the letters that were returned to sender, and starts fresh.
The script of Manglehorn is nothing much, but Pacino and Messina wring all they can out of it, making you wish the fractious father-son relationship had been a little bit more of the focus here. Gordon Green’s art direction is typically superb, and the living spaces Manglehorn inhabits would almost make him feel real if he weren’t, you know, a dessicated Al Pacino.
I guess Manglehorn is primarily about FOMA (Fear of Missing Out), which I did not know applied to people over seventy. For this reason, Manglehorn seems like a film about older people written by younger people. It makes sense that we would expect at least some people never really change from their previous selves. A book I read recently suggested we all freeze, emotionally, at one age or another. For Mr. Pacino, it might be that moment has yet to arrive.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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