A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" leaves little doubt as to why he grew up to be a successful playwright: Everyone in his family talked in dialogue. The movie feels so plotted, so constructed, so written, that I found myself thinking maybe they shouldn't have filmed the final draft of the screenplay. Maybe there was an earlier draft that was a little disorganized and unpolished, but still had the jumble of life in it.
The stage version of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" seemed much more alive than this film. Some of the difference is in the casting of the hero: Jonathan Silverman does not wear as well and is not as infectiously likable as Matthew Broderick, who had the role on stage.
But most of the difference, I think, is in the direction.
The movie was directed by Gene Saks, who directs many of Simon's plays on both the stage and the screen, and whose gift is for the theater. His plays have the breath of life; his movies feel like the official authorized version. Everything is by the numbers. After we learn that the hero's family always pronounces diseases with a whisper, we know with total certainty that at least one whispered disease will be "diarrhea," and that the joke will be carried on for one disease too long.