NORMAN (2017)

May 4, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. With the subtitle, ‘The Moderate Rise and Rapid Fall of a New York Fixer’, writer/director Joseph Cedar removes one layer of the mystery that otherwise envelops the lead character Norman Oppenheimer. We find ourselves somewhat sympathetic for the obviously lonely guy, while also accepting this as Cedar’s commentary on today’s real world obsession with networking. “It’s who you know” is the call of the business world, and few stake claim to more contacts that Norman.

Richard Gere stars as Norman, and we immediately notice his usual on screen air of superiority is missing, replaced instead by a fast-talking sense of desperation … in fact, Norman reeks of desperation. Cedar divides the film into four Acts: A Foot in the Door, The Right Horse, The Anonymous Donor, and The Price of Peace. These acts begin with Norman stalking/meeting an Israeli Deputy Minister after a conference, buying him an $1100 pair of Lanvin shoes, and then tracking their relationship over the next few years as Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) ultimately becomes Prime Minister of Israel, and is embroiled in a scandal that directly impacts Norman.

It’s a terrific script with exceptional performances from both Mr. Gere and Mr. Ashkenazi (who also starred in director Cedar’s excellent Oscar nominated Footnote, 2011). Their awkward initial connection seems grounded in reality – despite the expensive gift. These are two men who dream big, but go about things in quite different ways. Other terrific actors show up throughout, including: Michael Sheen as Norman’s lawyer nephew; Steve Buscemi as a Rabbi; Dan Stevens, Harris Yulin and Josh Charles as businessmen; Isaach De Bankole as the shoe salesman; Hank Azaria as Norman’s mirror-image from the streets; and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a disconcertingly quiet and calm Israeli investigator.

There are many interesting elements in the film – some are small details, while others are quite impactful. Examples of these include the whimsical music from Japanese composer Jun Miyake, Norman’s questionable diet, the emphasis on “Unnamed US businessman”, the twist on a simple question “What do you need?”, the recurring shot of the shoes, and the creative use of split screen montage during multiple phone calls.

Most hustlers don’t generate a great deal of success, and Norman is often an annoying, even an unwelcome presence. However, it seems clear he is well-intentioned, and despite a proclivity for fabricating facts, his sincerity makes him a somewhat sympathetic figure … one that by the film’s end, has accomplished quite a few favors that should have delivered the recognition and influence he so craved. Norman’s “art of the deal” may not be textbook, but it makes for entertaining viewing.

watch the trailer:

 


LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2010)

November 26, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Based on Jamey Reidy‘s book “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman”, the film bounces around between rom-com, disease-drama and an editorial on the medical profession and drug companies. The single best reason to watch the mashed-up film is the performance of Anne Hathaway, who surprisingly, has developed into an excellent actress.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a hot shot, charming, womanizing, always “on” pharmaceutical rep who will stop at nothing to eclipse his quota and achieve a promotion to Chicago, the promised land for Pfizer. Struggling a bit to make a name for himself selling Zoloft, Jake’s destiny seems pre-disposed when Pfizer introduces Viagra. Talk about a pitch in the batter’s wheelhouse! However, as so often happens in life, a speed bump appears. The best laid plans …

When Jake’s character meets Anne’s character (Maggie), things change for both of them – despite the less than perfect introductory scenario. Turns out, her character suffers from Stage One Parkinson’s, while he is a Stage Four jerk. Actually, that makes for the perfect couple … for a short while. You can guess what happens.

When the film transitions from rom-com to heavy handed drama, many of the best scenes occur, but overall the movie suffers. The scene at the un-convention for sufferers of Parkinson’s is undoubtedly the film’s best. Furthermore, when Jake meets the husband of a Stage Four Parkinson’s patient, he gets the one minute down and dirty along with the advice to just walk away.

Rarely will a love story have so many moments of the couple trying so hard to push the other away. Speaking of Love Story (my attempt at a smooth transition), it is important to note that despite the drama and dark tones, this film never delivers the expected sobbing out loud moment … like the bedside payoff in Love Story. Instead, it actually does a terrific job of treating the disease with respect and directness. A nice change for Hollywood.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond), the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Hathaway, who doesn’t disappoint. Supporting work is not as effective or important. That includes Gabriel Macht (phamaceutical competitor), Hank Azaria (the only doctor who needs help with women), Judy Greer (the eager office assistant), Oliver Platt (Jake’s boss in the film’s most confusing role), and Josh Gad (in the Jonah Hill knock-off role), plus George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jake’s parents. A sad note: Ms. Clayburgh died on November 5th this year. She had a varied and important Hollywood career and will be missed.

What’s odd about this film is that I have actually many good things to say about it despite my overall disappointment. I love some of the fast quips from the early part. The points made against drug companies, insurance companies and the medical profession are spot on (though a bit obvious). The serious portion of the program is handled with dignity and pulls no cheap punches. Much of the interaction seemed accurate and real. But for whatever reason, the film is just not very cohesive and comes across as choppy … a series of scenes, rather than a full story. That said, it’s worth seeing for the continued growth of Anne Hathaway as an actress.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you want to see Parkinson’s disease treated with dignity OR you just enjoy watching beautiful movie stars roll around in bed

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer a cohesive, clear story OR you are looking for this year’s “big cry” (ala Terms of Endearment or Love Story)