Larger Than Life is a different film today than it was ten years ago–back then, I remember, it was a big deal Matthew McConaughey starred in the film. There were reshoots to add more of him. Today, the film’s sold as a kid’s movie on DVD, which isn’t particularly appropriate, given a lot of the dialogue and some other aspects. The film was also one of Bill Murray’s last roles before he became “serious actor” Bill Murray. I remember, back then, it was of note because it reunited Murray with Howard Franklin and I really liked Quick Change back then.
I remember liking Larger Than Life well enough when it came out, but watching it again, I wish I could remember why–not because it’s terrible or something, but because I can’t believe I would have appreciated the developing affection between Murray and the elephant (it’s about Bill Murray and a giant elephant). I remember loving McConaughey, who turns in one of the great modern comedic performances in the film. McConaughey was on his way up, but whoever advertised the film couldn’t do anything with it (and, to be fair, it did take McConaughey a lot longer to catch on than anyone expected). But, overall, Larger Than Life is an advertising nightmare. It’s an unabashedly sentimental story about Bill Murray and an elephant. It’s also really, really short. It runs around ninety minutes and it probably needs only another ten or so (fifteen tops), but it does need something to make it gel. Most of the film is Murray and the elephant and various character actors showing up from time to time. It’s sort of a road movie, sort of an Americana travelogue, but also sort of not. There are all sorts of little things, which are supposed to be funny and kind of are funny, but they’re too fast to work. It’s like an experiment in humor or something–Murray, playing an up and coming motivational speaker, gets pissed when he sees Tony Robbins on TV. The scene lasts ten seconds and is the only thing regarding Murray’s character’s professional goals in the whole film.
Franklin sets up his comedic set pieces really well and an obvious complaint is the lack of them after the halfway mark. Larger Than Life‘s got a relatively long first act, short second, and long third. There’s not much funny in the first act, lots in the second, and heart-string pulling in the third (except McConaughey). It’s just too light and not in an unskilled way, but in a “something happened production-wise” way. Quick Change was short as well, but it was busier. Still, Larger Than Life does a lot more right than it does wrong–I just wish there were a decent DVD release.
Directed by Howard Franklin; written by Roy Blount Jr.; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Sidney Levin; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Marcia Hinds-Johnson; produced by Richard B. Lewis, John Watson and Pen Densham; released by United Artists.
Starring Bill Murray (Jack Corcoran), Janeane Garofalo (Mo), Matthew McConaughey (Tip), Linda Fiorentino (Terry), Jeremy Piven (Walter), Harve Presnell (Bowers), Tracey Walter (Wee St. Francis), Pat Hingle (Vernon), Lois Smith (Luluna) and Keith David (Hurst).