Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
Directed by Randa Haines. Starring Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Piper Laurie, Sandra Bullock. (1993)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Feb. 4, 1994
More grumpy old men here. Well, Harris's Frank is not exactly grumpy. He's a hard-drinking, loud-talking, woman chasing Irish ex-sailor, who has ended up, at 75, alone in a rented room in an rundown Miami apartment complex managed by MacLaine. On the outside, he's devil-may-care, but you know that inside something is gnawing away and causing some great pain. Oddly, he meets and teams up with Cuban ex-barber Walter (Duvall), a shrinking violet who has never been married, but who has a larger-than-life crush on his regular waitress Elaine (Bullock) at the coffeshop where he hangs out. The men meet, and an odd but believable relationship forms. They become friends, struggling through the end of life together. Each one begins to open the other up; Frank gaining in maturity and acknowledging his pain, Walter finally entering the real world. But, of course, the road is rocky. 21-year-old Steve Conrad wrote the script, directed by Haines (Children of a Lesser God, The Doctor). The point of the story seems to be “boys will be boys” -- 75-year-olds can behave and hold the same conversations as, say, 21-year-olds. This is not a major revelation. If to humanize people is to meld them together into a kind of fraternity kinship, this is perfect. If, on the other hand, superficial melodramatic stereotyping is always detrimental, than this is tripe. I vote for tripe. Harris goes for hell in a performance designed for A Man Named Horse IV: Retirement in Miami while the great Duvall's Walter is Bill Dana's Jose Jimenez retired to the beach as played by Alan Arkin doing any ethnic. This combination, given just the sheer screen genius of both these actors, can be a potent stew; there can be a hell of a lot going on when there isn't anything happening at all. The women are all outstanding. MacLaine tries her hardest, adding a still stunning sensuality to every scene and Laurie helps out as an aging charmer who still knows what she expects from a man. Bullock is radiant. But the script, the script stinks. It's another right of passage movie that pinballs off of clichés as though that is a way to achieve meaning. But there are those performances.