Fun with Dick and Jane (1977, Ted Kotcheff)

Every once in a while, Jane Fonda will say a line just right and Fun with Dick and Jane will be, well, fun for a moment. Not a long moment. Sometimes it approaches funny, sometimes it’s just fun. But it’s something. Because fun and funny are in short supply in Dick and Jane. Somehow the ability to do a ninety-five minute situation comedy escapes the collected creatives of Dick and Jane, mostly spectacularly the three writers—David Giler, Jerry Belson, Mordecai Richler, who want you to like lead George Segal for his racist, bigoted tendencies and to abhor the displays of humaneness around him—director Kotcheff, who can’t direct the simplest scene without screwing it up, editor Danford B. Greene, who manages not to have a single competent cut in the entire film.

I left cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp and composer Ernest Gold off that initial list because they’re not glaringly inept like the writers, the director, and the editor. But the film would obviously be better if they’d replaced Gold with the generic Black funk they have during the minorities get together and slack-off while working third shift scene because it’s the seventies and it’s funny but not racist funny but, you know, if you want to read it that way, Dick and Jane will sell you your ticket too.

And Koenekamp’s not good but what’s he going to do, somehow miracle Kotcheff into being able to compose a shot. I mean, maybe it is Koenekamp’s fault, maybe he did tell Kotcheff the film was using a very special Panavision Panaflex where you couldn’t place it anywhere slightly interesting. Or maybe Kotcheff’s direction is just terrible.

Latter seems most likely.

But then it’s not like the acting is anything good either. Fonda’s far better than George Segal, whose comedic performance somehow gets lost because of how Kotcheff doesn’t shoot him and then however Greene ruins the edit. The script’s jokes are fairly simple; setup and punchline. Only Greene somehow fumbles every single punchline. Yes, he’s cutting between one terrible Kotcheff shot to another, but… I don’t know, cut more of the bad shots and make it move faster.

Because for ninety-five minutes… Dick and Jane is a sludge of a picture. The first act, which has Segal getting laid off and trying to navigate unemployment as an upwardly mobile White man—he momentarily teams up with Hank Garcia, who was also fired from Segal’s company; Garcia was the custodian, Segal a veep—is painfully unfunny, with Segal trying to be as elitist, racist, and bigoted as he can get away with because… privilege is good? I’m sure Dick and Jane thinks it’s making a statement about corporate America or something but it’s really just about entitled White people being terrible.

What else.

Oh, Ed McMahon. If you’ve never gotten to see Ed McMahon try to act, it’s a rare—what’s a good antonym of delight—it’s a rare agony. In some ways it’s like Kotcheff has directed the whole movie around McMahon, trying to force the movie to encompass his inept acting, which just drags everything else down with it.

Or, maybe, Kotcheff just does a really bad job directing and there’s no one around to save the day in post.

It’s not like there are any better subplots to rely on, as everything—including Sean Frye as Fonda and Segal’s kid—disappears. Though maybe it was a deal with the MPAA: the kid had to go once Fonda and Segal start robbing places for laughs.

I guess Fonda’s got some great outfits, courtesy Donfeld (did she get to keep them, I wonder) but James Hulsey’s production design is hideous. The movie’s an eyesore.

Fun with Dick and Jane is anything but.

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