Friday, August 16, 2013

They Might Be Giants (1971)

The whimsical romantic adventure movie They Might Be Giants, adapted by James Goldman from his play of the same name and directed by Anthony Harvey, has more heart and novelty than it has credibility and resolution. Nonetheless, the piece communicates such a lovely theme that it’s possible to overlook many shortcomings. Similar in many ways to a more satisfying movie that came along 20 years later—The Fisher King (1991), with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams—They Might Be Giants asks whether society can tolerate harmless kooks, particularly if they envision themselves as heroes striving for the common good. However, Goldman doesn’t come close to answering the biggest questions his story raises, instead employing cutesy literary sidesteps to avoid thorny issues. Still, the journey of the movie is unique, and the picture is energized by lively performances. Furthermore, while Goldman and Harvey never approach the heights of their previous screen collaboration—the acclaimed historical drama The Lion in Winter (1968)—their approach is consistently literate and sophisticated. Set in contemporary New York, the picture revolves around Justin Playfair (George C. Scott), a wealthy retired judge who slipped into fantasy after the death of his wife. Imagining himself to be Sherlock Holmes and even going to the extreme of strutting around in 19th-century dress, Justin is admitted to a mental hospital by scheming relatives and placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward). And, yes, the gimmick of this movie’s “Holmes” finding his own personal Dr. Watson is just as extravagant a narrative indulgence as it sounds. Against a backdrop of Justin’s relatives angling to get him permanently committed so they can seize control of his money, Justin escapes the hospital and embarks on a quest to find the nefarious Dr. Moriarity—who, in the world of this story, doesn’t exist. Justin’s grand quest inspires acquaintances including Wilbur Peabody (Jack Gilford), a milquetoast senior who harbors heroic fantasies of his own, and Justin’s offbeat brilliance eventually sparks romance with Mildred. The movie vamps on its premise quite a bit, since the story can’t really go anywhere, but Scott is so commanding and Woodward is so stalwart that it’s a pleasure to watch them share the screen as their respective characters. After all, what’s not to like about the spectacle of two insightful people pooling their resources to right the wrongs of the world? (Gilford lends tenderness to the mix with his unassuming likeability.) One wishes there was as much substance in They Might Be Giants as there is style, since the specifics of the story disappear from memory rather quickly after watching the movie. But for viewers seeking a flamboyant lark, They Might Be Giants fits the bill.

They Might Be Giants: FUNKY

No comments: