Eccentric, literary, and unpredictable, Alex & the Gypsy has all the makings of a minor classic from the New Hollywood era. The filmmaking is naturalistic but slick, the performances are vivid, and the romantic storyline crosses cultural boundaries by putting a caustic everyman together with a reckless young woman from the fringes of society. The dialogue sparks at regular intervals, and the love scenes are bracing without being explicit, because where else can one encounter Jack Lemmon acting peeved because Geneviève Bujold isn’t sufficiently responsive to his labors during oral sex? For that matter, where else can one encounter a young James Woods dressed like a modern-day Bob Cratchit because his employer enjoys irony? Alex & the Gypsy has attitude and style and wit for days. What it doesn’t have, unfortunately, is a credible story or even consistent characterizations. The picture tries a lot of admirable things but fails at many of them.
Alex Main (Lemmon) is a low-rent bail bondsman in Los Angeles, and his only employee is accountant/gofer Crainpool (Woods). Alex learns that Maritza (Bujold) has been arrested for attempted murder. As we learn in flashbacks that are awkwardly interspersed throughout the movie, Alex and Maritza used to live together. He met her under ridiculous circumstances, fell under her exotic spell, and suffered a broken heart when she skipped out on him. Now he’s reluctant to provide bail services, even though he still carries a torch. Sap that he is, he bails her out. The story of the movie comprises Alex’s seriocomic attempts to keep Maritza captive until her hearing, plus his efforts to gather evidence that might clear her.
As directed by John Korty, a skillful maker of documentaries and TV movies whose theatrical features are usually disappointments, Alex & the Gypsy has great moments. A typically colorful scene involves Maritza reading palms at a Greek picnic, or Alex lulling himself to sleep with blinking traffic lights be bought at a police auction because they remind him of fireflies. Lemmon is wonderfully cranky here, balancing a hot temper with vulnerability, and Woods makes a terrific foil. Bujold, like her character, is the wild card. Obviously miscast (she’s French-Canadian), the unique actress renders a tough sort of sensuality, striving valiantly to make sense of a poorly conceived role.
Yet it’s the script that undermines the best efforts of everyone involved. Behavior and motivations make little sense, and the structural game of jumping between flashbacks and the present creates confusion without delivering compensatory benefits. Still, this is a strange little movie for a major star and a major studio to have made, so even if it’s not a proper New Hollywood artifact, it’s an example of the New Hollywood’s influence. Mainstream movies soon left this sort of adventurousness behind.
Alex & the Gypsy: FUNKY