One hundred and fifty or so movie geeks, including myself, have come on a mercifully cool summer night to Silver Lake’s Vista theater for a 30th-anniversary screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 black-and-white comedy, Paper Moon. But first there is a handprints-in-cement ceremony for its director and two of its stars, Ryan O’Neal and his daughter, Tatum, who at age 10 won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film (beating out her genius co-star, the late Madeline Kahn, as well as The Exorcist’s limber-headed teen, Linda Blair).
Ryan and Tatum are late, so the three-man handprint crew continually refresh their work, muttering apologies as they push a wobbly, cement-dripping wheelbarrow back and forth through the crowd. Bogdanovich, who hasn’t abandoned his 30-year predilection for striped shirts and ascots, has been here awhile signing autographs. With the surprisingly large contingent of flash-popping paparazzi all to himself, he has already been photographed sinking his hands into the Vista’s own eclectic Walk of Fame, right above those of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and the cast of Swingers.
Unexpectedly, Griffin O’Neal, wayward son of Ryan, is center-carpet, looking tanned, fit and hyperactive. Like his sister, he was a child star (sorta, kinda) but is best remembered for youthful brushes with the law and rehab. Tonight, he’s remarkably attentive to the clutch of frenzied autograph hounds, several of whom will shriek in astonishment a half-hour from now when Griffin offers to take their 8-by-10 Ryan O’Neal glossies inside to be signed by Dad.
A black stretch limo glides into view, and Papa Ryan bounds out, alone, and is immediately encircled by the insistent faithful, who thrust one-sheets and vinyl soundtrack albums at him. O’Neal, who is reportedly in remission from chronic myeloid leukemia, has shed the puffy face of illness and looks terrific. Watching him deftly scrawl his name with one hand while holding an Evian bottle with the other is another kind of reminder: Once a movie star (remember Love Story, What’s Up Doc?, BarryLyndon?), always a movie star.
Entertainment Tonight reporter Bob Goen — E.T. at the Vista! — quickly snags O’Neal for a “How does it feel 30 years later?” soundbite, and ends by asking where Tatum is, as if hoping for a whiff of scandal. O’Neal waves the query away, “Tatum’s always late,” then darts into the lobby, Bogdanovich at his side.
There’s a pause, then a stir as the autograph freaks turn and take flight, for there is Tatum O’Neal, brilliantly blond, half a block down, getting out of an SUV with her three teenage children. A brief signing frenzy ensues, right there next to the car, and then she’s under the marquee, looking slightly bewildered but lovely nonetheless in a black pantsuit. Just then, a taut, 40-something woman blocks Tatum’s path (there’s zero security here), hands her a small pink-wrapped package, and when the actress thanks her, the woman shakes her head. “Oh, no. Thank you,” she says, and locks O’Neal in a gaze of such alarming telepathic intensity that I think: That’s what John Lennon saw.
Suddenly, Ryan is at her side, his bearish arms wrapping around her, and as her forehead falls forward to rest briefly on his shoulder, I hear her say softly, “Daddy.”
Soon after, star and co-star, along with Paper Moon cinematographer Lazslo Kovacs, are kneeling, legs ungracefully akimbo, as they sink their outstretched palms deep into the Vista’s pavement. Flashbulbs blind, photographers shout, and those of us standing just behind the stars take a half-step back, stunned a bit by the force of those flashes.
Inside the theater, the O’Neal clan settles into one row, and Bogdanovich sits between his two stars. Griffin splits early, Ryan holds court for well-wishers, and Tatum heads for the lobby, her eyes rolling as her son calls out, “Mom! Get me a hot dog!” The lights finally dim and the movie begins, preceded by its original trailer. On cue, the audience applauds the director’s name, cheers Ryan’s, and claps firmly at the credit for Madeline Kahn. And maybe we’re thrown into sudden grief for Kahn, because no one applauds the words “Introducing Tatum O’Neal.” There’s an awkward silence, until her father exclaims, loudly, “Yeah!” and throws his newly immortalized hands together, initiating a swelling round of praise for his daughter, the Oscar winner.
Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), 27, is so shy that when his pregnant sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), knocks on his door to invite him to breakfast, he doesn’t greet her, he hides. Nervously, like a man avoiding a certified letter from the IRS, Lars stands at the edge of his front window, peeking out, clearly hoping she’ll give up and walk away. But Karin, who lives mere steps from the converted garage into which Lars moved when his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) brought home his bride, knows that Lars is in there, so she holds her ground. Reluctantly, Lars goes to the door. He goes because he’s as polite as he is shy, and because he understands that Karin is the best person he (or Gus) will ever know. Like the mother who died when he was born, who lives on in his mind, Karin is full to bursting with loving hopes for Lars. It is Karin’s insistence that the Lindstrom brothers have fuller, better selves hiding within that drives this funny and wonderfully human new comedy.
What happened to make Lars so people averse? One of the beauties of Nancy Oliver’s pitch perfect, Oscar-nominated screenplay — her first, after having written episodes of Six Feet Under — is that the sources of Lars’ pain are never explicitly explained. He doesn’t have a third act summing-up speech. His mother died, leaving Lars with a father who wasn’t so nice. Or maybe he was. Gus and Lars have differing opinions on that, a note of contention that feels true to how family stories play out; one son’s hero is another son’s adversary. Either way, Lars is wary of the world. It hurts him, literally, to be touched, a fact no one appears to know, and which may be why he’s so reluctant to open the door to Karin (she’s a hugger), or accept the attentions of Margo (Kelli Garner), the beautifully plain co-worker who keeps throwing herself at Lars, who goes online instead and buys himself a lover — a life-sized, anatomically correct doll (in hot pants) named Bianca.
Too proper to actually sleep with his new mate, Lars, who’s suddenly become quite verbose, asks Karin and Gus if Bianca can sleep in their spare room, a request they’re too stunned to deny. Bianca the blow-up doll moves in, Lars starts grinning, and on the advice of the local doctor (Patricia Clarkson) — who just happens to have a psychotherapy degree — Karin, Gus and eventually the entire town (a very small one) is playing along, pretending, for Lars sake, that Bianca is an actual person, one in need of patience, affection, and twice-daily wardrobe changes.
If this were a Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller movie, Bianca might inspire American Pie style sexual antics, but director Craig Gillespie’s broadest comic stroke comes early on, when Lars abruptly disposes of a carnation he’s supposed to be giving to poor Margo, who looks dismayed but not surprised that her would-be lothario is clueless about girls and flowers. Once Bianca arrives, Gillespie relies for laughs on the disbelieving faces of those who meet her, particularly Gus, whose comic freak-out slowly turns to anger as he realizes that he’s being forced to go along with pure irrationality. Gradually, weirdness gives way to everyday routine — Bianca at the dinner table, Bianca being tucked in at night — and Gus’s dismay tilts toward sadness, one born of grief for his unhinged brother, and guilt at having failed him. Lars and the Real Girl is the story of Lars waking up to life’s possibilities, but I think the fuller and more interesting journey belongs to Gus, who is first amused and then haunted by a question Lars asks him in the kitchen one day, out of the blue: “How did you know you were a man?”
This may be a question brothers never stop asking one another — brothers are forever on the seesaw together — and watching Gus process Lars’ query really got to me. All things revolve around Lars, but Gus is the secret heart of this movie. He's low-key and ordinary — a rarity in movies — and deeply in love with his wife. If Gus were the exact same guy at the end of this movie as he’d been at the film’s beginning, well, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But he isn’t. The presence of Lars presses Gus to think about their father, and though this is never stated outright, he's thinking too about the kind of father he himself will soon be. “How did you know you were a man?” Lars asked, and trying to figure out his own answer to that question triggers a momentary fissure in Gus. He breaks, and then — in the loving space provided by Karin, who saw the moment coming — he reconfigures himself, as brother, husband, and father-to-be. In a film that’s all about people taking small turns toward grace, Gus’ internal shift forward is the sweetest of all. (Chuck Wilson)
Felix De La Pena (John Leguizamo) is an East L.A. armored car driver who cares deeply for his wife, Marina (Rosie Perez), and their two kids. After he’s shot in the head by a robber (Tyrese Gibson) who gets away, Felix must fend off suspicious federal agents (led by the ever-terrific Bobby Cannavale) while struggling with brain injuries that leave him enraged at the world. The first half of this debut feature from director Brad Furman, written by Joshua and Jonas Pate, details the effects of Felix’s injuries on him and his family, and in these sequences, Furman draws superb performances from Leguizamo and Perez — two actors whose hyperactive energy has often been a distraction. Here, they’re centered and completely believable as a hardworking couple whose life has been turned inside-out. Their warmth holds The Take together even in the predictable home stretch, when the screenplay shifts into revenge-thriller mode and sends Felix out across the city to hunt down the gunman (a role so underwritten that the usually charismatic Gibson is left to glower like a central-casting hood). Furman stages the final foot chase with brio, but one wishes that he’d found a way to stay at home with Felix and Marina, who don’t need guns to thrill. (Chuck Wilson)
This gore-free PG-13 slasher film bears the same title as a fondly remembered and very bad 1980 horror movie that starred Jamie Lee Curtis. It wasn’t her finest hour, nor is this quasi remake likely to do much for Brittany Snow, who stars as Donna, a Connecticut teen who witnessed her love-obsessed high school teacher (Johnathon Schaech, deserving better) butchering her family to death. Three years later, Teach is on the loose and hiding out in the fancy hotel where an unsuspecting Donna and friends celebrate prom. As the night crawls along, an assortment of maids, bellboys, and horny-but-nice teens get stabbed to death in moments of violence that director Nelson McCormick stages with a minimum of blood but also, regrettably, a minimum of suspense. He and screenwriter J.S. Cardone haven’t had one original thought between them, but they do appear to share an obsession with characters who open hotel room closet doors in which steel hangers gleam ominously. There’s nothing scary in there, but here’s a shudder-inducing fact: McCormick and Cardone are currently collaborating on a remake of the witty and nearly perfect 1987 thriller, The Stepfather. (Chuck Wilson)
Tell people that you’re interviewing actor Richard Jenkins, and the universal response is, “Who?” Say, “The dead father in Six Feet Under,” and suddenly their eyes light up. That guy, they know.
Whether he’s playing dead or stealing the show as an acid-tripping FBI agent (in David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster), Jenkins is an actor audiences trust — even if they don’t quite know his name. That should change with the release of The Visitor, writer-director Tom McCarthy’s quietly potent story of a widowed economics professor who becomes entwined in the lives of a young immigrant couple he meets in New York City. Walter Vale, sad and uptight, loosens considerably over the course of the film, learning to play an African drum and even getting to kiss a beautiful woman — a dream part for a perennial Everyman like Jenkins, who gives the performance of his career. When we met recently at the Four Seasons Hotel, I couldn’t resist joshing the actor about his being the focal point for The Visitor’s ad campaign: “Hey, look who’s on the poster.”
Jenkins, tall and lean at 60, waves his hands in mock humility. “Well, don’t forget, I was on the lobby card for Silverado,” he says. Suddenly, Jenkins jumps up, steps around the coffee table and drops face-down on the floor, arms outstretched, the very measure of a dead cowboy. “I was shot,” he says. “All you could see was my bald head and Brian Dennehy standing over me. That was my first studio movie. I remember walking into the theater and saying, ‘Look! I’m on the lobby card.’ ” Taking his seat, Jenkins grins, clearly a man pleased to have made it to the poster.
Above-the-title billing is a new experience for Jenkins, who was 37 when he made Silverado, though, he says with not a little amazement, he’s always supported his family with his acting. “I did drive a laundry truck once, in Chicago. Four months, four accidents. I could not deliver laundry.”
In 1975, after working in regional theater, the then-28-year-old actor left his wife and baby daughter on the East Coast and headed for Los Angeles to, as he puts it, “see if I could make something happen. It was, ‘I’ll go forage, and you bring the wagon train out after me.’ I was out here for close to a year, and it was horrible. So lonely. When it was finally time to drive back, I had to borrow gas money from an uncle in San Bernardino. It was brutal.”
Jenkins may have been a late bloomer, but Silverado led to a remarkably steady stream of work, from no-brainer TV movies to little-seen indie gems like The Mudge Boy and featured roles in mainstream hits like There’s Something About Mary. Continuing what looks to be a very good year, he’ll soon be seen opposite Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the summer comedy Step Brothers — “a hilarious experience,” Jenkins says. In the fall, he’ll appear alongside Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading.
When I suggest that his coolness factor is pretty high these days, Jenkins doesn’t argue. “I look back and wonder, how did this happen? How did I end up here?” he says. Our time is up, but Jenkins leans forward at the last minute and asks if I’ve ever met Reilly. “Terrific guy. I play his dad in Step Brothers. One day I asked him, ‘What did your father do?’ And Reilly says, ‘He was the vice-president of a commercial laundry in Chicago.’ I said to him, ‘I knew your dad. I worked for your dad.’ Once, John Reilly [Sr.] brought his boat to my father-in-law’s cottage in Wisconsin. He had his family with him. John was 4 years old and I was just out of college. Isn’t that the most bizarre thing?”
I nod in agreement, then Jenkins throws out an additional bit of cosmic coincidence. “You know Danai?” he asks. He means Danai Gurira, the U.S.-born, Zimbabwe-raised actress who plays one of the immigrants Walter befriends in The Visitor. “I asked Danai where her mother went to school and it turned out to be my school, Illinois Wesleyan. I went to school with Danai’s mother. She was a year ahead of me. I didn’t know her personally, but I knew who she was. And now, here we are. What are the odds?” For Jenkins, it would appear, the odds are awfully good.
I think it was somewhere in the second hour of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that I sank down in my seat, pulled my jacket up under my chin and let myself be 12 years old again. Blessedly, I wasn’t there as a movie critic. One of the few benefits of being the second- or third-string guy in the film section is that you don’t always have to take notes; you can go and slouch down in your seat and just be yourself, or, rather, your truest movie self, which isn’t necessarily the exact same person who plays at being an adult in the sunlit world, or the self who takes half-legible notes at other movies, like a beauty-contest judge giving poise and elocution marks.Tonight, I was just a guy who sat down in the fifth row with one of his best pals (I’m lucky to have more than one) at his side, stared hopefully up at the screen and was granted the one thing he needed most in the world — a sense of wonder. And right after that, wonder’s adjunct — joy. Tears too, for balance, and because Frodo and Sam broke my heart and because, for those three hours and 20 minutes, my friend Jordan and I became those two hobbits, linked for all time by hardship and loyalty. Sure enough, afterward, saying goodnight at the car, we swore to each other (quite unnecessarily) that we would always carry one another up Mount Doom. And I drove home happy, because he’s got my back, and because this epic, aching film reminded me that I haven’t seen everything after all; that movies are miraculous; and that within me, still, is the kid who used to pull his legs up under him, to be taller, to see more of the screen, who wondered, “How do they do that?” and at the same time didn’t care, being grateful, simply, that there were shadow makers who knew the trick for taking him out of his body, out of his world. Which felt, then and now, like an act of salvation. (Chuck Wilson