Saturday, April 04, 2009

Nothing in Common

We watched an early eighties movie Nothing In Common last night. I'd seen it two or three times before. It always frustrates me because half of it is a very good movie.

Tom Hanks is a successful young ad man with problems. His parents, well into their sixties, are divorcing; his lady friend has broken it off because he won't commit; and the ad agency is in bad need of pleasing its biggest account.

The half of the movie that works well is the relationship between Hanks and his mother and father. For me this is Jackie Gleason's best performance. Here he's a version of an Irish Willy Loman. The difference is that he's always been a boozer and a chaser and his wife, played perfectly by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint, can take it no longer and is divorcing him. Gleason was never much of a husband or a father and so when Hanks tries to intercede he realizes he's dealing with a stranger, an angry, drunken, arrogant man whose health is failing and who is being eased out of his decades-long job. Gleason's performance is a brave one--he never once lets you like him. By the end you have some sense of him as a man but he's still a mean selfish bastard. There are very few established stars who would have had the courage to play it that way.

The other half of the movie is standard stuff. The ad agency. The cool people. The cynical people. The fun people. Yadda yadda yadda. Here Hanks and company try to keep an account by having Hanks sidle up to the client's bitch goddess daughter overplayed by the very sleek Sela Ward (his old girl friend Bess Armstrong is of course the polar opposite, appealing but so sweet she's unbeleivable). This part of the movie you can write yourself.

I've never been a Tom Hanks fan. I don't dislike his work but I get tired of his unctuousness. I remember one critic saying that there was always an element of "the child" in Hanks and maybe that's what I don't like. I'd put it as childishness. I never have the feeling that he's quite grown up. Early on he was compared to James Stewart but it's hard to imagine Hanks ever finding the rage and psychosis Stewart showed us (he was one scary sumbitch) in Anthony Mann's "The Naked Spur."

In Nothing in Common his rather tinny performance is overwhelmed by both Gleason and St. Marie. Hanks is dorky and way too immature to be interesting.


Anonymous said...

I really liked James Stewart in The Naked Spur, too. Ralph Meeker was good at least in the first part.

Ed Lynskey

Frank Loose said...

Thanks for reminding me about The Naked Spur. It has been eons since I saw it. I'm going to add it to my NefFlix queue. Jimmy Stewart -- no way Hanks touches him. He did it all, but his westerns are particularly memorable. Consider The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Broken Arrow, The Man from Laramie. Then there's his other dramatic roles: Flight of the Phoenix, Vertigo (my fave Hitchcock movie), Anatomy of a Murder. The list of great films and performances is endless. How many Hanks movies will people be watching 30 years from now? The Da Vinci Code? -- I think not.

Todd Mason said...

Ach. I've never seen more than a few minutes of NOTHING IN COMMON, but as a near-idolator of Sela Ward, and I'm not sure how I missed this previously, I might need to watch this now.

Gleason knew what he was about as an actor...Minnesota Fats in the adaptation of THE HUSTLER was another not particularly sympathetic role.

mike doran said...

This was Jackie Gleason's last acting role - he fell ill not long after its release, died about a year later. I still wince at that shot of his foot ... and no, I don't want to know how it was accomplished.

Anonymous said...

I liked Nothing in Common when I saw it during it's initial run. I need to rent it and see it again after reading this. Thanks for the reminder of a decent movie.

Re the Hanks vs. Stewart comments, I'm not a huge Hanks fan, but find him likeable enough in the roles suited for him (A League of Their Own). He does seem limited when it comes to dramatic roles, though. That said, let's remember that we're comparing an unfinished career to that of a Hollywood legend. Things could possibly be different by the time Mr. Hanks leaves us. Just saying.

Jeff P.