I don't think I've ever even once seen this film brought up anywhere ever on these forums (and I've lurked for ages), but there by all rights should be at least a dozen threads on it. The movie is without a doubt a work of elegant beauty and earth rending power the likes of which touched an incredibly raw nerve in me all those years back when I first saw it on its original release... and it retains every tiny ounce of that power each and every time I've ever revisited it (which has been a great, great deal many: you'd be AMAZED at how well and how easily this movie survives so many multiple rewatches, so spellbinding are the writing and acting).
Phil Cooper is simply put, no bullshit, one of my absolute single all time favorite cinematic characters ever and is easily the crown jewel performance of Danny DeVito's entire career bar none. No idea why this movie goes so oft unmentioned and appears to have become so forgotten and obscure; it seemed to get SOME manner of attention upon its initial release, but it was I think mainly due to Kevin Spacey still riding the American Beauty wave at the time. The incredibly crass and shitty choice they used for the DVD review blurb sorta makes this fact grotesquely evident. But this film is indeed a true gem, and it easily ranks among any great drama or character study I'd care to name that have left an incredible, permanent mark upon me that I'll never, ever forget and will always treasure deeply.
And speaking of American Beauty, for whatever its worth, I've always felt VERY strongly that this film kicks the absolute dogshit out of American Beauty with effortless ease and SHOULD have been the Spacey performance (he too is incredible in this, though really for me this is DeVito's show all the way) and film of that period to get the acclaim and attention that Beauty (which is abysmally, wretchedly overrated and pandering) did.
But fuck that; I don't want that hideous, spotlight hogging entity of a film once again drawing all the attention away from this glimmering little diamond in the rough. I could go on at obscene length at how much I adore DeVito's character and performance as well as how much I can so, so, SO deeply relate to Phil's outlook on life as a human being: his final speech to Peter Facinelli's character Bob regarding the TRUE nature of character, honesty, and basic human decency reflects both then and now SO closely to much of my outlook on life and what it means to be truly moral and to genuinely give a shit about one's fellow man, it was like the writer Roger Rueff (adapting his own stage play here) reached into my fucking soul and pulled the words that I always wanted to use to express these feelings, but never could quite manage, right out of me and had them spill out of Danny DeVito's mouth.
But Spacey, as said, is far from being outdone here, and his Larry Mann is such a subtly wonderful and deceptively multi-layered character, whose inner kindness and vulnerability is masterfully and carefully buried DEEP amidst a LOT of very loud bluster and ego and flamboyant brashness, that you get the distinct sense is a very deliberate attempt on Larry's end to use at least in part as a shield for the purposes of being successful in his sales career.
Apart from Phil's final monologue to Bob, my other favorite scene in the film is when Phil essentially lays bare his soul to Larry during a tense and awkward wait for Bob to return from a meeting with a very important business client of theirs, regarding his views on spirituality as well as the course and direction his life has taken in over 50 years. Larry listens and is never once remotely rude or mean about it, but he's CLEARLY uncomfortable with this level of intimacy (with ANYONE, not just Phil) and so is nearly CONSTANTLY attempting to deflect Phil's spoken aloud soul searching (including an incredibly haunting and wonderfully worded description of a dream Phil once had as a child about meeting God Himself) with sarcastic remarks and a somewhat flippant attitude; none of which are at all belittling to Phil himself directly as Larry clearly has FAR too much love and respect for Phil for that (the dialogue and characterizations takes GREAT PAINS to infuse these characters with an incredible degree of realism and nuance). But its blatantly obvious that Larry's trying to keep his guard up (as he always does) and keep the conversation itself more grounded in far less emotional and existential terms.
Until finally Phil at last, and after a LONG and intense discussion finally wears down Larry's carefully maintained guard and defenses for I think the very first time the whole movie, and Spacey gives this wonderfully resigned sigh and says three very simple words that are delivered so magnificently and which say SO much about who this person is (merely in how he says them: its the performance that gives that very simple line its power here), that the whole scene single handedly lends an utterly INSANE degree of dimensions and vulnerability and humanity to what had for large stretches of the film up till then been an incredibly witty and hilarious, but at the same time very abrasive, blunt, and snarky little spitfire of a character.
There are indeed several other subtle little "tells" throughout the film that point to Larry's true integrity and decency as a person deep underneath his showy, vulgar, loudmouthed attitude (which Phil can easily, clearly see straight through, largely due to having known Larry for so long and just generally being a very perceptively smart person), but the above mentioned example is easily my favorite of them.
And I especially LOVE the wiiiiiiiide contrast between Larry and Bob in their views and takes on morality, and I adore this film for which end of the spectrum it ultimately sides with (as mediated and moderated to perfection through Phil in his final monologue to Bob at the climax). The contrast between what Larry and Bob view as moral behavior is ESPECIALLY all the more relevant now in today's American climate than ever, what with all the more-pious-than-thou "morals and values" talking heads that have dominated our mass media for much of the last ten years, and both this movie and the play it was based on were both clearly written with a tremendous deal of intellectual and spiritual clarity and wisdom at their very epicenter.
This film is, above all else, a sobering, unflinching, and flawlessly executed wake-up call to anyone who views morality and the world around them solely within cartoonish, black and white terms... and even THOSE sorts of people, as embodied through Bob himself, are given their fair due of dimensions and layered humanity: NONE of the three principal characters and NO one single point of view of theirs is wholly, one hundred percent championed or condemned, regardless of where the story's intentions and opinions clearly lie more towards.
On that same token, I was especially impressed with how the film handles Bob: he's played by easily the least experienced, least known, and least impactful actor of the three and he could have EASILY just been a simple one dimensional strawman for both Phil and Larry to lay their philosophies upon (in their own wildly different manners of doing so). To some extent, one might be inclined to argue that he ultimately kinda is just that, which may be the one and only real debatable chink in the film's otherwise rock-solid aromor... but Peter Facinelli, an actor I've never outside of this film particularly thought anything of one way or the other, does a VERY admirable job at bringing a great degree of relatability to what is in many ways a very hard to like and hard to empathize with (for a certain set of people that most certainly make up a vast majority of people that post here) character.
Bob may have a very simplistic grasp and view of the world around him, but he's never for one single moment anything other than a believable human being. No matter how much you may hate this type of person, no matter how many of his type have irritated you over the years with their stubborn, unyielding intellectual inflexibility, you've DAMN sure met plenty of Bob Walkers in your life more than likely, and both the script and Facinelli do their utmost damnedest to make you, if not outright LIKE Bob, then at least empathize with him and understand that, as Phil notes, in spite of all his shortcomings and inexperience at life, he still IS at the end of the day a recognizably kind hearted and deeply caring individual whose heart at least is in the right place and whose less admirable traits do in fact stem from good, noble intentions to be the best person he can be.
If the film condemns anything at all about Bob, it condemns the character's MISGUIDEDNESS and his (somewhat crippling) naivete itself, and NOT the man himself underneath his views and opinions. That's a HUGE distinction that the film does indeed go well out of its way to make (and Facinelli does deserve a great deal more credit than he'll probably ever receive in at least attempting to make this point shine through in his performance). In fact, a central, critical part of the film's whole main point is to separate the people we meet from our prejudices towards elements about their personalities that we might clash with, or at least try our best to do so just enough to love and respect them on a basic and universally human level. Once again, considering the volatile and absurdly polarized nature of our present day political and religious climate, this is an INCREDIBLY wise and relevant message even more so now than it was the the decade+ years ago that the film came out.
Simply put, this film is astounding, and dare I throw the most loaded of all critical words around recklessly, a minor masterpiece (in my view at least) that without question deserves to be regarded as an unsung and criminally underseen classic film of the turn of the millennium. A plague upon the houses of anyone that ever panned this thing remotely both during and since its release. ESPECIALLY the narrow-minded asshats who hated it simply because the whole film basically consists of just these three people talking in one hotel room for just about literally its entire running time.
Not to come across as that most pretentious of pretentious film nerds with an art agenda to push, but seriously guys: as presented here, three people of drastically different generations and moral/religious viewpoints sitting in a hotel suite both bonding and clashing with one another is INFINITELY, astro-fucking-nomically more engrossing, gripping, worthwhile, and nourishing to both the mind and the spirit than just about every single blockbuster film that ever broke bank at the box office the last bunch of summers. I consider myself as wary of empty, hollow, faux-arty indie pretentiousness as any practical minded cinema goer might... but this here isn't that at all. This film is very much the real thing and has something VERY meaningful and worthwhile to say, and it says it with a great tremendous deal of humor, class, warmth, blunt honesty, lucid intelligence, and elegant gracefulness.
This is no question among my most treasured and warmest regarded of modern films from the tail-most end of my adolescence, and I've been eagerly recommending this to just about anyone who'll listen for well over the past decade and change that its existed. No matter how many times I've seen it, it always takes me through the emotional ringer and for all the sharp dialogue and great laughs to also be had along he way (most of Spacey's dialogue in particular fucking KILLS in this), this film never fails to leave me emotionally drained and in tears of both joy and somber bittersweetness by the end. Its got my number like fucking clockwork that way.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
Edited by Jaquio - 4/19/12 at 6:43pm