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Starring Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis,
Amy Irving, Craig T. Nelson, and Martha Plimpton
Adapted from his play and Directed by Herb Gardner
. . . couple of old guys were sitting on a bench . . .
A decade ago the setting was the Broadway stage instead of the big screen, and I'm Not Rappaport won the Tony Award for best show of the season. As always, Cranky makes no comparison to the source material, but is pleased to report that Hollywood hasn't messed with what worked way back then. Playwright Herb Gardner has adapted his play, and directed the whole thing.
What works well on the stage oftentimes has a hard time making the transition to film, and such is the case here. That sounds a lot worse than it really is.
The couple of old guys on a bench are Nat (Walter Matthau) and Midge (Ossie Davis). Both are in their eighth decade on the planet. Both suffer from glaucoma -- meaning they don't see so well for you youngsters -- and neither of 'em moves so well. Midge is in his 42nd year as Superintendent of a classy Central Park West apartment building which is about to go co-op. That means no more job for Midge. Nat still wears his Socialist political leanings on his sleeve, raising hell in supermarkets that mark up the price of meat, and generally making his daughter's life miserable. Nat talks a good talk, loves passing himself off as people he isn't, changes his name on a daily basis, and would be tilting at windmills, IMO, if he were in Spain. Nat's daughter (Amy Irving) is the only one of his four kidlets who still talks to the man, and she has worried well past the point of needing the stress anymore.
Filling out the supporting cast are Martha Plimpton as one of the myriad art students you can find in the park sketching, and Craig T. Nelson as "The Cowboy," meaning drug pusher in skins.
The repartee between Nat and Midge is four-letter blue and caustically funny. Each has monologues which lets him stretch those acting chops, though Matthau gets the pithier bits. Whether his character is just old and cranky, or beginning to lose it mentally is left to the audience to ponder, since the time-frame of the movie is essentially a matter of days, with a month gap between the second and third acts.
What marked the end of Acts One and Two on the Broadway stage is plain, though I won't give it away. In transition to screen, one blackout works, the other doesn't. The attempt to better integrate the subplots with Irving (i.e. What's a daughter to do?) and a second involving a relationship between The Cowboy and The Artist both fail. Showing the characters in the film's first act, while giving those characters little to do until well into the second, is awkward and serves only to break up the dialogue between the two men.
The role of Nat is of a kind that Matthau has performed before as other characters, and he takes his performance to the peak of his powers. There are moments of genius in it, and were the Academy apt to grant nominations to comic roles, Matthau would have serious consideration. Comedic roles, unfortunately, rarely get that kind of attention.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to I'm Not Rappaport, he would have paid . . .
That's the New York equivalent of a Pay-Per-View, for I'm Not Rappaport has not made a smooth translation to the big screen.
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