I Saw A Film!
I missed this Akyroyd – Grodin comic contest when it came out, in fact, I didn’t even know it existed. Which is too bad as it’s not bad. The story is all too familiar, a psychiatric patient manages to swindle his way to the top of a chain of professionalism by being quick-witted and in the right place when Grodin’s people are looking for a temporary replacement for his radio show.
Well that’s your set up, it’s nothing new, think Being There, mixed with a bit of One Few Over . . . Let Danny A. kinda look funny and deliver in his style. What’s funny is his brand of nothing-to-lose confidence. And while it’s a tired trope to imagine people in need of mental health treatment are somehow both debilitated and simultaneously geniuses (It really doesn’t matter if we are, when we’re sick we need treatment, not incarceration), constantly seeking an opportunity to upend a social institution and curry friends and put the bad people in their place. Grodin is wonderful as the ineptly rotten psychiatrist. He was always excellent at playing the kind of people we love to hate (and his recent passing inspired my viewing as well. Some of his best moments were on Letterman where he just tortured the host, hilariously). Long ago Dr. Mark Vonnegut, son of the better known author, wrote a story about his own dive into mental unhealth. He pointed out poignantly that the movie trope of the hidden genius inside the broken person is one that needs to be put to rest. His argument is that we can’t possibly function when our chemistry is a wreck, and most of the time chemistry is to blame for our mess. Mental issues are no different from having Asthma – you still need treatment.
I have to admit to having a warm spot for the original Saturday Night Live crew. I’ve a friend who met Akyroyd more recently (selling his Vodka) and had a very nice time chatting with him. An old joke had Akyroyd basically unable to say no to any work, especially the silliest, but I’m not sure that sort of criticism really holds in our hour of Tic Tok and basically universal constant performance. Nothing seems too outrageous or terrible to expose.
Vicky Jackson has a small role as a cute ditsy office worker, I always thought she was performing that too, but she performed that pretty much always. Mary Gross is here too, doing her usual big-eyed innocent thing. And Walter Matthau is a kind of street nut who intersects with Akyroyd to give Dan a chance to kind of do something heroic in the finale. In reading Roger Ebert’s review of this thing I had to think a bit about his appraisal of the missing third act. He complained that new movies were lacking it and insisting on tossing in an action sequence. But, honestly, I think that’s been a tried and true method of getting out of the summation. How many films in the sixties (often manned by Peter Sellers, or Barbara Streisand) ended with a giant, everything in, car chase of some kind?
This is running Free on PRIME (USA) and actually a fair humor film that is far better than so many (like that terrible hear no evil see no evil thing).