Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)

Any film whose title describes the reaction the film hopes to elicit is asking for trouble—so the fact that Fun With Dick and Jake isn’t all that fun to watch makes its title seem like false advertising. Comedy of the lightest possible sort, the picture is coherent and smooth, so it’s not a complete misfire. However, it’s executed with such mindless superficiality that it’s more like Passing Time Painlessly With Dick and Jane. Ostensibly a satire of out-of-control materialism, the story revolves around aeronautics executive Dick Harper (George Segal) and his stay-at-home wife, Jane (Jane Fonda). When Dick gets fired as part of a company-wide downsizing, the Harpers realize how tenuous their financial life has become—for instance, during what should be one of the movie’s funniest bits (but isn’t), landscapers repossess the Harpers’ lawn for nonpayment of bills. Dick’s attempts to maintain his family’s lifestyle go badly, because he gets caught working while collecting unemployment, and he misrepresents himself to a potential new employer. Finally, after a supposedly farcical run-in with crooks, Dick gets the idea to become a hold-up man, and Jane insists on tagging along, so they become an upscale Bonnie and Clyde. Segal showcases his usual rascally charm, and Fonda tries (unsuccessfully) to infuse her underwritten role with empowered-woman sass, but the actors cannot surmount an uninspired script and fundamentally unsympathetic characters: The plot is lumpy and mechanical, and the Harpers are rotten people who feel entitled to a luxurious standard of living. Had a true satirist like, say, Larry Gelbart or Paul Mazursky tackled this storyline, the script would certainly have climaxed with some episode of edifying introspection; instead, this shallow romp asks viewers to perceive the Harpers as admirable strivers, thus short-circuiting any potential for social commentary. Oh, and the film’s largest supporting role is played by onetime Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon, which should give an idea of the level of artistic ambition on display here. FYI, the 2005 remake with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni is just as middling as the original picture.

Fun With Dick and Jane: FUNKY

1 comment:

Barry Miller said...

Released only a year after the first glimmers of Jimmy Carter's post-Watergate shine started to seriously tarnish in the eyes of the average American citizen, "Fun With Dick And Jane" should of been, on a comedic level, the kind of hybridized blockbuster that "Saturday Night Fever" was as a so-called " teen musical", combining a truly scathing amount of powerful and knife-edged social criticism towards American life inside the shell of a mainstream genre film.
The reason it failed to do so is evident in the tone, temper, detail, and pitch of the acting: "Fever" made absolutely no concessions to sugar-coating it's ugliness and it's cruelly existential and inhumane core, or else it would of wound up immediately as forgettable teen-idol kitsch and a cultural laughingstock in retrospect, nothing more. "Fun With Dick And Jane" was fundamentally afraid of itself; had it given in to those aesthetic nuances in a more courageous manner, it may very well have been one of the greatest and most potent films of the late 1970's, when "Fever", released a mere 11 months later within that same year of 1977, became that very thing, much to the shock of Hollywood, the critics, and then the world.