In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_6svpck54r9k0mz9xcfzswrxcin

Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

Thumb_oax1ohn3ltgrf3vlh5ff28w0yjn

Mr. Turner

Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Mixed Nuts

  |  

A s a general rule, normal people are funnier than zany people, a possibility that "Mixed Nuts" would have done well to explore. The film is so chock-a-block with unemployed Santas, disconsolate transvestites, lonely bachelorettes and harassed suicide hotline workers that a sense of exhaustion sets in: Isn't there anyone normal in this world, who can stand back and just sort of appreciate the others? The film takes place just before Christmas along the beach in Venice, Calif. - an area where, arguably, a normal person would stand out as a curiosity. It is centered on the offices of the Lifesavers, a volunteer hotline for the depressed, the suicidal, the lonely and the chatty. No prizes for guessing that many of the volunteers are more depressed than the callers.

The opening gag, a collision involving Santa, bicycles and a Christmas tree, more or less sets the tone for the movie, which wants to be slapstick and heartsick at the same time; these characters are so desperate that acting colorful is their only escape from grim reality.

The movie has a first-rate cast and crew; it's Nora Ephron's first directing job since the wonderful "Sleepless in Seattle" and stars Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Robert Klein, Anthony LaPaglia, Juliette Lewis, Rob Reiner and even Gary Shandling, in a walk-through. Maybe there's too much talent. Every character shines with such dazzling intensity and such inexhaustible comic invention that the movie becomes tiresome, like too many clowns.

Martin runs Lifesavers, which is staffed by Kahn (who spends much of her time screaming in a stalled elevator) and Rita Wilson (who is in love with Martin but whose people skills are such that he has never had reason to suspect this). People calling her on the hotline are disconnected or, worse, given alarmingly wrongheaded advice. Headquarters is in a rickety old building which, like most of Venice, looks recycled from the 1960s (the building is actually an astonishingly convincing set built in New York). The landlord is trying to force everyone out, so service is shoddy. But he is killed by the Seaside Strangler, a serial killer we somehow know we will meet before the movie is over.

We also get to know some of the regulars in the neighborhood. Juliette Lewis, awesomely pregnant, runs the used-clothing store. Her boyfriend, played by LaPaglia, is an inept Santa Claus. Neighbors include Robert Klein, as a tireless curmudgeon, and Rob Reiner, as a veterinarian who will inevitably be pressed into service as a "real doctor" when the newborn arrives.

There are some very funny lines. I especially liked Reiner's riff pillows - how men are content with one nice, comfortable pillow , while women require mountain ranges of pillows, marching across a bed four rows deep.

But the movie is essentially just an exercise in behavior, an assembly of characters determined to be colorful and given license by the director, who would rather go for a gag now than a payoff later. Even Steve Martin, who can usually stand aside and make his moments work with their own logic, is carried along with the torrent.

Leaving the movie, I felt sort of drained - the way you get when you smile politely for hours in the enforced company of strangers, madmen and bores, you know?

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

The Ten Best Films of 2014

The ten best films of 2014, as chosen by the film critics of RogerEbert.com.

10 Underrated Female Performances of 2014

Ten underrated female performances from 2014 worthy of Oscar consideration.

More on That Later: The Truth About “Serial”

Some thoughts on the hit podcast "Serial".

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus